Environmental Perspectives for Development

The history and socio-economic impact of development interventions on ecological systems.

India struggles with a host of ecological and environmental challenges, from deforestation to drought, and air pollution to flooding. These place serious constraints on the sustainability of India’s development trajectory. While these changes are largely economic and political in nature and driven by a few influential actors, the consequences of ecological and environmental degradation are disproportionately borne by the poor and marginalised communities.

To understand development in India, it is essential to appreciate the history of India’s developmental trajectory as shaped by its ecology, from pre-colonial and colonial periods through to independent, modernising India. At the same time, it is also important to frame these changes within the perspective of social-ecological thinking. The course will enable students to view India’s development trajectory using an integrated social-ecological systems perspective — understanding that the social cannot be delinked from the ecological. The course will also help them see how to use this frame to interrogate mainstream contemporary narratives of India’s development, placing them in a historical context to understand the political and socio-economic drivers of ecological change. In doing so, the course will focus on India’s production systems (agriculture, pastoralism, fisheries, forestry, mining etc) using a social-ecological lens. It will discuss alternate ecological ways of visualizing India’s developmental goals (e.g. Gandhian growth, eco-feminism, eco-Marxism). The course will also look forward in time, by discussing emerging developmental challenges for India in the 21st century that have ecological links: e.g. urbanisation, climate change, planetary boundaries, energy, and industrial ecology.