Welcome to my website and thanks for visiting! I am an associate professor in the School of International Service at American University in Washington, DC, where I teach graduate and undergraduate courses on global urban politics and environmental justice through the lenses of Marxian geography, anticaste theory, and decolonial and critical race theory. I am also a faculty affiliate of AU’s Metropolitan Policy Center in the School of Public Affairs, the Department of Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies, and the Antiracist Research and Policy Center.
Most broadly, I am a scholar of urban environmental justice. I am interested in the political economy of land, labor, and ecology in the context of capitalist urbanization. As a critical urban geographer and political ecologist trained in qualitative and spatial methodology, I am motivated by three central questions: (1) What are the root causes of urban spatial and environmental injustices? (2) How do dominant/oppressor groups reproduce and defend privileges based on caste, race, gender, and class? (3) How and why do urban marginalized groups contest spatial, ecological, and labor injustices and to what ends? Empirically, I study activist struggles in India (largely Bengaluru) and the U.S. (largely Washington, DC) surrounding housing and land, climate and flood vulnerability, and water and sanitation.
My book, Corruption Plots: Stories, Ethics, and Publics of the Late Capitalist City, coauthored with David Pike and Sapana Doshi, is forthcoming with Cornell University Press’s Series on Land: New Perspectives on Territory, Development, and Environment (April 2023). It upends commonsense notions that equate corruption with illegality, bribery, or the failure of “Third World” states to evolve into a market system. We study corruption from the streets of Bengaluru, Mumbai, and other rapidly urbanizing millennial cities of the global South, where black money skyscrapers, land grabs, and slum evictions invoke outrage at deepening economic polarization. Our book argues that rather than being a deviation from (neo)liberal capitalism, corruption politics lie at the heart of global capital flows encouraged by the very institutions that claim to be fighting corruption. Drawing on ethnography in Bengaluru and Mumbai and a cross-section of literary and cinematic stories of corruption from cities around the world, we suggest that “corruption talk” is fundamental to a global storytelling practice about how states and elites abuse entrusted power in late capitalism, even if these actions are not always technically “illegal.” These are stories not of corruption of the system, but corruption as the system. Corruption Plots demonstrates how, in this moment of late capitalism and rightwing populism, corruption talk is leveraged to make ethical and affective sense of economic inequality. We warn, however, that it is equally used opportunistically by those who are themselves implicated in wrongdoing to “other” minoritized groups. We thus pay close attention to the racial, caste, class, and gender location of the narrators, spaces, and publics imagined to be harmed by corruption. The book works across the humanities and social sciences to build theory “from” the global South–theory that is indispensable for understanding real estate capitalism and inequality in the global North where corruption talk is assiduously avoided in political discourse. It is an outcome of a generous grant from the Andrew Mellon-American Council of Learned Societies grant (2017-19).
I am currently working on three book projects. The first is a collaborative book with Isaac Arul Selva and Siddharth K.J, both scholar-activists in Bengaluru: The Urbanization of Caste Power: Land, Labor, and Environmental Politics in Bengaluru. Based on collaborative research conducted across caste positionalities, the book traces histories of caste and brahminical supremacy in the city, and how caste power reproduces exclusionary and extractive land, ecology, and labor regimes. In it, we consider the potential for legal, union, and anticaste activism and narrative to disrupt injustices perpetuated by economic and caste power.
Second, I am working on a theoretically oriented monograph titled The Environment as Freedom: Confronting Global Political Ecologies of Caste and Racial Capitalism. The book suggests that the core concerns of political ecology—namely land, labor, and environmental justice across rural and urban geographies—could be further developed through a critical caste lens situated within histories of racial capitalism. Specifically, I focus on the operation of caste power in the urban environment, and argue that caste endures around the world—silently and insidiously—precisely because dominant myths, including those propagated by liberal Indians, wealthy ex-pats, and rightwing populists, submerge caste within seemingly benign cultural, traditional, and private spheres, rather than identifying caste as a structural and ongoing feature of economic plunder and world ecologies in crisis. I draw on over 15 years of ethnographic and activist research in Bengaluru, India and connect what I call “submerged ecologies of caste” with histories of indentured labor (“coolie”) migration to the plantation colonies of Malaya and the Caribbean from the late 19th century. In doing so, I rethink global climate precarity as forged through configurations of caste, capital, and coloniality. Finally, I suggest that across anticaste, Black, and diasporic narratives lies an enduring commitment to humanism, what I name as a planetary humanism. It is this planetary humanism, one that sutures together concerns of land, labor, and life through an ethic of freedom, that must reinvigorate scholarship and action. View the 2022 Dimensions of Political Ecology Keynote lecture I gave on this book project in progress titled “Political Ecologies of Caste and Racial Capitalism: Remapping a Planetary Humanism.”
Third, and finally, based on long-term ethnographic research at the flood-prone peripheries of Bengaluru, I am working on a manuscript titled Conjuring Land from Water: The Political Ecology of Climate Justice in Bengaluru. The book traces colonial planning ideologies, nationalist city-making, and the quiet workings of caste supremacy in property law from the mid-20th century that encouraged the usurpation of wetlands (keres) and storm canals (raja kaluves), all of which opened the floodgates to (wet)land grabs and unequal flood risk in the new millennium. It also draws on interviews with youth activists to reveal how young people in India and across the world are reframing climate justice in India in a moment of resurgent nationalism on the one hand and radical internationalism on the other.
In the U.S., I have been conducting research in Washington, DC’s Ward 7 on climate injustice, housing segregation, and deep histories of environmental racism. My recent work has called for an abolitionist approach to climate justice. This work was featured on the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5 on NPR in September 2019, and various other media outlets. For a summary of how I approach environmental justice theoretically and transnationally, please see my essay “The Environment as Freedom: A Decolonial Reimagining.” To learn more about my research ethics and reflections on my positionality and privilege, please click on the “Research” tab.
Prior to coming to American University, I was a Post-Doctoral Fellow in the Social Dimensions of Environmental Policy initiative at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, based out of the Department of Geography and Geographic Information Science. I received a Master’s and PhD from the Energy and Resources Group (ERG) at the University of California, Berkeley with a Designated Emphasis in Global Metropolitan Studies. I received a Bachelor’s degree from Bard College in NY.
Please browse my research and publications to learn more.
***Credit for the banner art on my home page goes to the incredible feminist artist, Vidushi Yadav.***