What are the costs of studying over-researched places?

Over at Twitter, Cat Button recently advertised a Call for Papers on "Over-researched Places". Fascinating right? Wondering about research spaces that are revisited and researched repeatedly, she calls for reflexive interrogation of the issue of "researcher saturation and its consequences".

Over-researched places in urban India

The idea immediately appealed to me. In development research across urban India, metropolitan regions — the big five of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai and Calcutta have been, in my opinion, over-researched. You have now oft-repeated narratives of Bangalore's Silicon Valley story vs. it's growing inequality; Mumbai's flood management and inherent 'resilience'; Delhi bastis and regular evictions. But we hear less of Tier II and Tier III cities which are also spaces of dynamism and aspirational change; spaces where 'step-migrants' often come to before moving to big cities; and sites where environmental problems ha…

Adaptation pathways: two recent papers and implications for maladaptation

In the climate change adaptation literature, pathways thinking seems to be cropping up everywhere. A quick search I did for papers published 2014 onwards threw up 25 distinct case studies engaging with adaptation pathways-speak, with examples ranging from 'priming' multiple stakeholders to find transformational solutions to climatic risks in Indonesia (Butler et al., 2016), to ethnographic research examining pathways of past adaptation in Eastern Europe (Campeanu et al., 2014).

This was not the case in the summer of 2013, when I took a break from writing up my PhD thesis to attend the STEPS Summer School on Pathways to Sustainability in Brighton. Bringing together a stimulating mix of PhD students in varying stages of their research, the summer school first introduced me to pathways thinking. Or the STEPS Pathways Approach.

That exposure shaped a key part of my thesis and I went on to write about conceptualising household responses to climate variability and change as interse…

Thoughts on two new papers from vulnerability and adaptation research

I read two very interesting papers from adaptation and vulnerability research last week.

In Operationalizing longitudinal approaches to climate change vulnerability assessment, Fawcett et al. (2017) make a case for longitudinal methodological approaches when studying vulnerability and adaptation. The lack of attention paid to temporality has been a long-held peeve of mine (it's gotten so bad that in team meetings, colleagues crack jokes about it). Fawcett et al. use three illustrative cases from Arctic communities to highlight how longitudinal approaches, two in particular — cohort studies (following a group of individuals over time) and trend studies (repeated data collected at a community level to reveal patterns of change) — can strengthen the methodological toolbox of vulnerability research.

I particularly liked how they tease out the benefits of using a longitudinal approach. It helps
build a more nuanced understanding of adaptation processes and 'causal chains' of vu…

Urban Livelihoods: Learning by Doing

If I were to choose one word to define my research, it would not be climate change or adaptation, it would actually be livelihoods. Livelihoods. How people earn a living; a process, a strategy that goes much beyond a 'job' or income source', a negotiation that people and families make to live, and meet their physical needs and, if you're lucky, aspirations as well.
"Livelihoods are understood not only in terms of income earning but a much wider range of activities, such as gaining and retaining access to resources and opportunities, dealing with risk, negotiating social relationships within the household and managing social networks and institutions within communities and the city." Beall and Kanji (1999:1)  Until a few years ago, I was working exclusively on rural livelihoods. How households deal with climatic risks (among other things) and what livelihood pathways they take. The rural development literature has had a relatively long engagement with the idea…

Envisioning with empathy: Reflections on the Transformative Scenario Planning Methodology

Last month, my team organised and participated in a training workshop on a methodology called Transformative Scenario Planning (TSP). Aimed at envisioning and co-creating futures in situations that are seemingly stuck, cannot be resolved by one/few actors, and are complex and conflict-ridden, the TSP has been used across the globe from post-apartheid South Africa to democratic futures across Latin America. In India, we are exploring whether we can use this methodology to construct transformative scenarios for Bangalore's water future. 
About: Transformative scenarios aren’t about predicting the future, they’re about creating it. While most scenario planning methodologies focus on adaptation, transformative scenarios seek to not only understand or adapt to the future but also to shape it. The structured yet creative process helps diverse actors to see the different futures that are possible and discover what they can and must do. Constructing transformative scenarios may lead to wor…

What's the difference between adaptation and development?

How do we differentiate between adaptation and development? Are development projects being re-branded to show that they are meeting climate change goals in a bid to attract funds? Or is adaptation just the latest fad; nothing more than development with a climate change hat on?

A working paper I recently wrote tries to unravel this issue and demonstrates that demarcating what is adaptation and what development is not all that simple. From a review of 69 projects in three semi-arid states of India, we find that initiatives that takes into account existing vulnerabilities (due to social differences, and different capacities and capabilities) and prepare for climatic risks can be termed as adaptive. Projects that are not flexible or forward-thinking and are ignorant of current and potential climatic risks, are neither adaptive nor 'good' development. From the abstract: We find that while there is a significant reorientation of development action in India to mainstream adaptation goa…

Book Review | The Adivasi Will Not Dance

Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar's "The Adivasi Will Not Dance" does not have the most poetic prose but it is raw and honest. This short story collection brings to readers stories from India's fecund yet ravaged lands — the resource-rich Adivasi-inhabited Jharkhand. Ten stories, refreshingly focussed on women protagonists (though that may not have been deliberate), portray how the curse and blessing of bountiful natural resources intersect with historical trajectories of marginalisation to present-day exploitation and apathy.

While the ten short stories that make up the collection are not even in their content, for me, two stories stood out. In "Getting Even", Hansda presumably draws on his own experiences as a medical officer in the Jharkhand Government to portray how 'sahiyas' (Accredited Social Health Activists commonly known as ASHAs) are key to delivering babies in this land where services seldom work.
"The sahiyas knew no rest. Each one would bri…