Workshop 3 – 2023

Historical and sociological approaches to environmental studies

Invited tutors

  • Dr Vanessa Caru, historian, CESAH, CNRS-EHESS, Paris
  • Dr Bérénice Girard, sociologist, CESSMA, IRD, Paris
  • Afia Salam, Freelance journalist and Communications consultant


The aim of this workshop is to introduce historical and sociological approaches to environmental studies, their sources and methods, as well as the main issues they deal with. A general introduction will present the major approaches to environmental studies, as well as the place South Asia occupies in this field, where it developed early on (whether, for example, in the analysis of the relationship between the exploitation of natural resources and imperialism, or that of issues of social and environmental justice through works on the environmentalism of the poor and bourgeois environmentalism). Presentations will then focus on the sources and methods of history and sociology as applied to this field: what sources should be used to write an environmental history? How can biographical interviews be used to analyze individual and collective trajectories of mobilization? These presentations will be coupled with practical exercises (work on an archive file, visit to an archive center or small fieldwork carried out in groups). Finally, researchers will present case studies focusing on the theme of water, enabling participants to reflect on the methodological challenges of this type of approach.

W3 Schedule

9:30-11:15 General introduction : Major historical and sociological approaches to environmental studies, with a focus on South Asia
11:15-11:30 COFFEE/TEA BREAK
11:30-13:00 General introduction : Major historical and sociological approaches to environmental studies, with a focus on South Asia
13:00-14:00 LUNCH BREAK
14:00-15:45 Methodological tools and challenges: sources of environmental studies
15:45-16:00 COFFEE/TEA BREAK
16:00-17:30 Presentation and interaction with representatives of the Indus Earth Trust (on the project to improve access to water for women in Kohistan)
9:30-11:15 Methodological tools and challenges : conducting biographical interviews
11:15-11:30 COFFEE/TEA BREAK
11:30-13:00 Methodological tools and challenges : field visits and observations
13:00-14:00 LUNCH BREAK
14:00-17:30 Field visit  to the Dhabeji pumping station and filtration plant
9:30-11:15 Interview with Afia Salam, Indus Earth Trust
11:15-11:30 COFFEE/TEA BREAK
11:30-13:00 Discussion and feedback on field visits and interviews. General questions & answers
13:00-14:00 LUNCH BREAK
14:00-15:45 Group work: preparation of knowledge/project restitution supervised
15:45-16:00 COFFEE/TEA BREAK
16:00-17:30 Group work continues
9:30-11:15 Group work continues
11:15-11:30 COFFEE/TEA BREAK
11:30-13:00 Group work continues
13:00-14:00 LUNCH BREAK
14:00-16:00 Plenary group presentation by trainees
16:00-16:30 COFFEE/TEA BREAK
16:30-18:00 Valedictory Address

Feedback from resource persons, students and trainers

Delivery of certificates


































Environmental history on South Asia, selected references 

Arnold D. and Guha R, (eds) Nature, Culture, Imperialism. Essays on the Environmental History of South Asia, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1996.

Awadhendra Sharan, Dust and Smoke, Air Pollution and Colonial Urbanism. India, c. 1860-c. 1940, Delhi, Orient Blackswan, 2020 (the study includes Karachi).

D’Souza R., “Nature, Conservation and Environmental History: A Review of Some Recent Environmental Writings on South Asia”, Conservation and Society, 1 (2), 2003, pp. 117-32.

Grove R., Damodaran V and Sangwan S.  (eds.), Nature and the Orient. The Environmental History of South and Southeast Asia, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1998.

Guha R., “The Prehistory of Indian Environmentalism: Intellectual Traditions”, EPW, 1992. Gadgil M. and Guha R.,. This Fissured Land. An Ecological History of India, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 1992.

Guha R., The Unquiet Woods: Ecological Change and Peasants Resistance in the Himalaya, New Delhi, 1989.

Iftekhar I., The Bengal Delta: Ecology, State and Social Change, 18401943, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Kumar D., Damodaran V. and D’Souza R., The British Empire and the Natural World. Environmental Encounters in South Asia, Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2011.

Sengupta N., “Irrigation: Traditional versus Modern”, EPW, 1985.

Environmental inequalities, justice and conflicts in contemporary South Asia, selected references

Baviskar A, The politics of the city, Seminar, 516,

Baviskar A, Nation’s body, river’s pulse: Narratives of anti-dam politics in India, Thesis Eleven, 150(1), pp.26-41, 2019.

Baviskar A, Uncivil City: Ecology, Equity and the Commons in Delhi, New Delhi: Sage, 2020.

Butt WH, Waste intimacies. Caste and the unevenness of life in urban Pakistan, American Ethnologist, 47(3), 2020

Guha R, and Martinez-Allier, J, Chapter 1: The Environmentalism of the Poor, pp.3-22, in Guha R, and Martinez-Allier, J, Varieties of Environmentalism: Essays from North and South, London and New York: Earthscan, 1997.

Gadgil, M, and Guha, R, Ecological Conflicts and the Environmental Movement in India. Development and Change, 25(1), 1994.

Gadgil M, and Guha R, Ecology and Equity. The use and abuse of nature in contemporary India, London and New York: Routledge, 1995.

Geschewsky H, and Islar M, A political ecology of aviation and development: an analysis of relations of power and justice in the (de)construction of Nepal’s Second International Airport, Journal of Political Ecology, 29(1), 2022

Mawdsley E, India’s Middle Classes and the Environment, Development and Change, 35(1), 2004.

Rademacher A, When Is Housing an Environmental Problem? Reforming Informality in Kathmandu, Current Anthropology, 50 (4), 2009

Williams G, and Mawdsley E, Postcolonial Environmental Justice: Government and Governance in India, Geoforum, 37, 2006.

Water infrastructures and their actors in South Asia, selected references

On urban water infrastructures

Alley K, On the banks of the Ganga. When wastewater meets a sacred river, University of Michigan Press, 2002

Bjِrkman L, Pipe politics. Contested Waters. Embedded Infrastructures in Millenial Mumbai, Durham and London: Durham University Press, 2015.

Bjِrkman L, The engineer and the plumber: Mediating Mumbai’s conflicting infrastructural imaginaries, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 42 (2), 2018

Chaplin S, Cities, sewers and poverty: India’s politics of sanitation, Environment and Urbanization, 11 (1), 1999

Coelho K, Of engineers, rationalities and rule. An ethnography of neoliberal reform in an urban water utility in South India, PhD thesis, University of Arizona, 2004

Farooqi U., “Politics of neutrality: Urban knowledge practices and everyday formalisation in Karachi Waterscape”, Urban Studies, 57 (12), 2020, p. 2423-2439.

Gandy M, Landscapes of disaster: water, modernity, and urban fragmentation in Mumbai, Environment and Planning A, 40, 2008 (on Chennai’s floods)

Sultana F, Embodied Intersectionalities of Urban Citizenship: Water, Infrastructure, and Gender in the Global South, Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 110(5), 2020.

On large dams, irrigation canals and other hydraulic infrastructures 

Akhter M., “Geopolitics of Dam Design on the Indus”, Economic and Political Weekly, 48 2013, p. 24–6.

Alam U., Sahota P. and Jeffrey P., “Irrigation in the Indus Basin: A History of Unsustainability?”, Water Science & Technology, 7, 2007, p. 211–18.

Baviskar A, In the belly of the river. Tribal conflicts over development in the Narmada valley, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Briscoe J., “Troubled Waters: Can a Bridge Be Built over the Indus?”, Economic and Political Weekly, 45, 2010, p. 28–32.

Gilmartin D., Blood and Water: The Indus River Basin in Modern History, Berkeley, University of California Press, 2015.

Haines D., Rivers Divided: Indus Basin Waters in the Making of India and Pakistan, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016.

Hayat M, The Bureaucrat’s Wage: (De)Valuations of Work in an Irrigation Bureaucracy, The Anthropology of Work Review, 41(2), 2020

Khagram S, Dams, Democracy and Development. Transnational Struggles for Water and Power, Cornell University Press, 2004.

Laghari, A.N., Vanham D. and Rauch W., “The Indus Basin in the Framework of Current and Future Water Resources Management”, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 16 2012, p. 1063–83.

Saiyid Ali N., Indus Waters and Social Change: The Evolution and Transition of Agrarian Society in Pakistan, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2013.

Swayamprakash R, Exportable engineering expertise for ‘Development’: a story of large dams in post-independence India, Water History, 6, 2014.

American environmental history, selected references 

Cronon W., “The Trouble with Wilderness,” New York Times Sunday Magazine, 8/13/1995, p. 42- 43.

Cronon W., Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists and the Ecology of New England, New York, 1983.

Crosby A., Ecological Imperialism: The Biological Expansion of Europe 900-1900, New York, 1986.

Melosi M., Effluent America. Cities, Industry, Energy and the Environment, Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.

Sutter P. and al., “State of the Field: American Environmental History,” Journal of American History,100:1, June 2013, p. 94-148.

Worster D., Dust Bowl: The Southern Plains in the 1930s, New York, 1979.

Worster D., Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity and the Growth of the American West, New York, 1985.

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