I study livelihoods and natural resource management, with focus on resource-dependent people, the conflicts arising out of contested rights, and community struggles to reclaim these rights.
My research is primarily focused on South Asia, but I have also led research projects in Indonesia, Lao PDR and Mongolia.
My work is informed by feminist scholar-activist research methodologies, and has contributed to broadening the understanding of gender in, and the social impacts of, large-scale, capitalised extractive industries, leading to efforts to engender the extractive industries.
Through this research, I have contributed to reframing the debates around informal, artisanal and small-scale (ASM) extractive practices of mineral-dependent communities of the Global South by bringing the moral economy of resource extractive livelihoods to the forefront.
I have examined how the agrarian crisis in South Asia is increasingly ‘feminising’ rural livelihoods, leading to unforeseen consequences and fundamental changes in labour and production relations.
In a book, ‘Dancing with the River’ (Agrarian Studies Series, Yale University Press, 2013) I show that rivers and people’s lives are inextricably enmeshed with each other. I argue that rivers are not just physical entities but are ‘imagined’, and that tiny pieces of land called ‘chars’ (river islands) can blur the well-established conceptual boundaries between land and water to create spaces that are ungovernable.
I have also studied how water use practices of middle class, urban households are changing, and how feminists chart new ways of thinking about water as a resource. Currently, I am investigating how women experience climate change differently differently in chars.
Some of my research have been useful to global policy agencies. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) invited me to join the Extractives and Resource Governance group of the International Resource Panel. ‘Mineral Resource Governance in the 21st Century’, the full report, can be found here. I have also advised other UN agencies such as the UNDP. After Covid, I worked with UN-WOMEN as a member of its ‘Core Advisory Group’ to develop a ‘Feminist Plan’ for Sustainability and Social Justice. Of other global agencies, the World Bank has sought my advice on gender challenges in extractive industries, and has published my report ‘Just Transition for All: A Feminist Approach for the Coal Sector’. Within Australia, the Australian Council for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), and Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) have engaged me. My international policy advocacy work includes service as an elected member of the Steering Committee of Gender & Water Alliance (GWA).
Within the ANU, I have been a proponent of gender equity and diversity, and believe that encouraging more diversity and ‘difference’ within the academia can benefit everyone, in every respect.
I teach two courses: ANTH8038 Gender and Development: Critical Issues in Policy and Practice (6 units in second semester) and ANTH8039 (12 units of the same course), and EMDV8013 Development and Envirionment in the Anthropocene. Both courses are offered every year during the Second semester, and are fully online with the option of face-to-face contact. In addition, I convene the EMDV7901 Pre-Sessional Programs in Summer and Winter Sessions every year.
In my academic career, I have prioritized training students to develop critical perspectives on gender/social science through these masters courses, and through the supervision of Masters dissertation, MPhil and PhD students.
Currently, I am researching, jointly with Dr Patrik Oskarsson of Swedish Agricultural University, Uppsala, and funded by the Swedish research Council’s FORMAS grant, how coal dependent communities in India can hope to get justice from energy transition.
I have completed, as the sole Chief Investigator, a large ARC Discovery Project grant, ‘Beyond the Resource Curse’ (see video on an aspect of this study) to explore the livelihoods of quarryworkers in India. Another, similar, initiative was the ARC Linkage Project, ‘Going for Gold’, in which I was the lead-Investigator. Both projects linked informal mining to agrarian change, and highlighted the extractivism of peasants and their mineral-dependent livelihoods. These projects covered a large ground in India, Laos and Indonesia. Information about these projects are available at www.asmasiapacific.com.
Another recently completed research project is ‘Farmers of the Future’, also funded by the Australian Research Council as a Discovery Project. The study focuses on feminisation of agriculture and food security in India, and partly builds upon her fieldwork-based report of women’s experiences of rapid rural change, undertaken for ACIAR. This three-year project involved scholars from the University of Sydney, James Cook University, ANU College of Arts & Social Sciences, and the Gujarat Institute of Development Research in India. A related research project is currently underway. Funded by the Australian Council for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), it examines women in pulses value chain in Pakistan.
- 2013 - Senior Visiting Fellow, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore (August-October)
- Senior Visiting Fellowship award, Australian Academy of Sciences, 2012
- Rajiv Gandhi Fellowship award, RGICS & ANU, 2005
- Career Award, University Grants Commission, India (1999-2002). This prestigious three-year award to mid-career researchers is equivalent to and similar in nature to Future Fellowship awards made by the Australian Research Council..
- Panos Institute, Oral Testimony Project of mining-displaced indigenous people in Jharkhand (2002)
- NASA Post-Doctoral Fellowship (1987)
- Member, ANU Academic Board
- Member, Crawford Research Committee
- Editorial Collective, ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies » more info
- Member, Editorial Board, Asia Pacific Environmental Monograph Series, ANU Press http://press.anu.edu.au.virtual.anu.edu.au/.
- Member, Editorial Board, Space and Culture, India
- Guest Editor Development (Palgrave), March 2008 Journal Issue: ‘Water for People’ (51.1).
- Guest Editor ACME International Journal of Critical Geography Issue (forthcoming):‘Scaling Down: Researching Household water practices’.
Keynote and Addresses Invited/Major Lectures
2014 Keynote address on extractive industries in Otago Foreign Policy School, Dunedin, New Zealand, 27-29 June, 2014.
2014 Invited lecture on ‘Mining and social movements’ in the Summer School, Ruhr University of Bochum, Germany, 1-15 September, 2014.
2013 Professor Satyesh Chakrabarti Memorial Lecture on ‘What is nature? What is resource?’ at The University of Burdwan, India, on 23rd December. 2013 Invited Public Lecture, on ‘Dancing with the River’, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi, 25 July. 2012 Plenary Lecture on ‘Mining, Nature and Society: A New Feminist Perspective’ in 9th International Mining History Congress, 17-20 April, Johannesburg. 2012 Special Lecture on ‘Researching Natural Resources through a Feminist Lens’, the Institute of Indian Geographers’ conference, 11-14 December, Centre for Earth Science Studies, Trivandrum, Kerala, India. 2011. Plenary Lecture on ‘New Geographies of Water Resources for 21st Century India’s Development’, at the 33rd Indian Geography Congress of the National Association of Geographers India, 11-13 2011, Burdwan. 2010. Keynote Address: ‘The “People” Dimension of Mining’, in the 1st International Mining Conference: Staking a Claim for Cambodia, Organised jointly by the UN and Royal Government of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26-27th May, 2010. 2010. Keynote Address: ‘Dancing with the River: An exploration of river, land and river islands’, Tenth International River Symposium, Perth 11-14th October, 2010. 2008. Community Engagement in Mining: What India Can Do, Asia-Pacific Partnership Workshop on Mine Closure organized by DITR, 18-19th April, 2008, Kolkata, India 2008. Extractive Industries and Community Livelihoods, 21st April, 2008, PetroBangla, Dhaka, Bangladesh. 2007. Gender Mainstreaming in ASM, 7th CASM ACC, Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia. 2007. Social and Environmental Consequences of Coal Mining in India, November, New Delhi, India.
My current research focuses, with funding from an ARC Discovery Project grant (‘Beyond the Resource Curse’), on understanding the poor, experiencing agrarian and social changes, make a living on mineral-rich tracts. This project represents my long term interests in the moral economy of mineral-dependent livelihoods, primarily in India but also in Lao PDR and Indonesia, and in Mongolia.
Related to this major endeavor is my ongoing interest on the social life of underground space, with particular reference to the history of Indian coal mines.
I have, however, retained my interest on critical water resource studies, but my interests have moved into the microscopic domains of the body and the space occupied by them, the household. I am currently developing a critique of the international WASH sector by exploring the feminist politics of menstrual hygiene management, and studying the changing and gendered water use practices in urban households.
My research is primarily on South Asia, mainly India, but also Bangladesh and Indonesia. Doctoral candidates currently working with Kuntala are writing theses on gender and development, water resources management, informal mining and sustainable livelihoods in mining areas.
I am the convenor of gender specialisation at the Masters in Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development Program (see at http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au.virtual.anu.edu.au/maapd/). The teaching programs are interdisciplinary in nature and cross-campus in intake.
I convene two Masters courses, namely ‘Critical Issues in Gender and Development’ (6 Units) and ‘Critical Issues in Gender and Development - Advanced’ (12 Units). From 2014, I have introduced a Masters level course on ‘ Exploring Gender, Resources and the Environment’ (6 Units). My teaching tasks include the preparation of course outline, innovations, course delivery through class lectures, web-based delivery, student management, grading and assessment. Through these courses, I have connected my research with pedagogy. My teaching philosophy can be briefly summarised as learner-centred pedagogy which puts a great amount of importance on peer assisted learning, and the success of which is reflected in the steady rise in student intake in the courses and the high level of satisfaction reflected in Student Evaluation of Learning and Teaching (SELT).
My education-related tasks include research supervision. At the ANU, two students have successfully been awarded doctoral degrees under my supervision, and are currently teaching in Oxford University and Universitas Indonesia. I currently have three doctoral students working on their theses. I have also supervised the work of students undertaking Masters by Thesis and PhB.