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Special Topics in Environmental Policy and Culture (390-0-20)


Environmental Justice in Modern South Asia


Chandana Anusha

Meeting Info

Kresge Centennial Hall 2-420: Tues, Thurs 11:00AM - 12:20PM

Overview of class

Environmental Justice in Modern South Asia is an undergraduate class on the unequal experiences and effects of environmental change in South Asia, drawing primarily on case studies from India. Since at least the early 1990s, rapid economic growth, massive infrastructural projects, democratic transformations and global threats of climate change have characterized the South Asian region. Such political, economic, and ecological processes come together to worsen the lives and livelihoods of marginalized people typically. They tend to intensify their vulnerability to environmental degradation, with historical structures of inclusion and exclusion profoundly shaping how natural resources are accessed and distributed. While the regional focus is on South Asia, at the heart of this course is a broader concern that environmental questions are always questions of equality and social justice.

The class will examine how issues of justice and nature are framed within law and official policy debates, within social movements and right-based struggles, as well as within people's moral imaginations and everyday lives. The following questions will guide the class:

• What environmental problems arose in South Asia through accelerated economic development across the 20th century and early 21st century?
• Who suffered the most, why, and how were they affected, socially, culturally, and materially?
• What strategies for justice and sustainability emerged?
• How is environmental justice understood across activists, policymakers, and ordinary people whose lives are most in danger?

Learning Objectives

1. Students will be able to evaluate processes of economic development, conservation, and natural resource regimes, in terms of their consequences on people who live in places where these processes are received.

2. Students will be able to describe complex social responses to environmental issues such as the rise of environmentalism and protest movements, everyday resistance, local conflicts, and legal disputes, with examples from South Asia.

3. Students will be able to think through key themes in environmental justice such as displacement, dispossession, resource extraction, biodiversity loss, and ecological refugees. You will also be able to understand and explain positive values such as quality of life, rights-based conservation, local meanings of place, and intimate attachments with a world of human-non-human entanglements. You will be able to identify how and when these themes generate controversy and provide examples.

4. Students will learn to examine historical and ethnographic sources, policy documents, and scientific reports, and use them to think about environmental issues in multi-dimensional ways. You will recognize the diversity of voices in debates over environmental justice.

5. Students will improve writing and analytical skills, as well as their capacity for collaborative learning through the assignments built into the structure of the course.

Evaluation Method

15% Participation, including weekly post and in-class discussion
10% Discussant-Commentator Role (at least once in the semester)
25% Mid-term essay
50% Final Paper

Class Materials (Required)

Sample texts may include

Govindrajan, Radhika. Animal Intimacies: Interspecies Relatedness in India's Central Himalayas. University of Chicago Press, 2018.

Anand, Nikhil, Hydraulic City: Water and the Infrastructures of Citizenship in Mumbai. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017). ISBN-13: 9780822362692

Sharma, Mukul, Caste and Nature: Dalits and Environmental Politics (Delhi: Oxford University Press 2108). ISBN-13: 9780199477562 -

Paprocki, Kasia, Threatening Dystopias : The Global Politics of Climate Change Adaptation in Bangladesh (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2021). ISBN-13: 978-1501759178