Appointed As

Environment and Race/Ethnicity Postdoctoral Scholar in the Humanities


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


Northwestern University

PhD Field of Study

PhD, Sociocultural Anthropology, Yale University

Dissertation Abstract

"The Living Coast: Port Development and Ecological Transformations in the Gulf of Kutch, Western India"

This dissertation analyzes coastal development, and ecological disturbance in the 21st century. Specifically, it examines the resurgence and degradation of life in the Gulf of Kutch, Western India, as the region becomes enmeshed in the construction of one of India’s largest ports. Although life at first glance seems imperiled and destroyed by massive modern port development, my research reveals new ways of living with the coast. I show how these times of ecological stress and socio-economic disruption generate new imaginaries and the reemergence of forms of life. These insights arise from over two years of ethnographic and archival research which led me to reconceptualize a coast previously understood as a narrow and insignificant strip of land and water as a meshwork of freshwater, seawater, sediment, organisms, and emotion. Since 1991, port-led efforts to reengineer the coast into a global hub through no-go zones, extractions, reclamations, and highways have coexisted and contended with a web of farmers, fishworkers, graziers, seafarers, mangroves, goats, and other species. Calling this diverse and dynamic ecology a “Living Coast,” I argue that people both take up new opportunities and strive to live meaningful lives with other beings as they adapt to intensified infrastructural activity.
Forests in the region historically created the conditions for monsoonal rivers. Monsoonal rivers worked with soil holding mangroves to carve out, conserve, and dissolve the harbor, shaping Indian Oceanic flows to and from the old town and surrounding farms. Massive modern port construction snaps such ties between river and sea, emphasizing permanent tidal depth for containerized shipping. But the subterranean intermingling of freshwater, seawater and sediment today generates and distributes salty and sweet plants. Goats and their herders daily wander in search of the tastiest salty and sweet plants across fields, shrines, rivers and commercial developments. In the 20 years of living with the port and its fluctuating trade flows, people have witnessed the sharp rise and decline of individual fortunes. Realizing that the port cannot be relied upon for a better life, residents across the old town and villages actively hold onto agriculture for an intergenerational future.
Through fine-grained analysis of experience, adaptation, and future-making, I show that the Kutch coast – typically understood as a wasteland – is better understood as a vibrant site where coastal dwellers are enacting struggles for living good lives amid uncertainty. My project combines participant observation in the old walled port town and its villages, attendance at public meetings on livelihood concerns, and the port sector, with oral histories, folk tales, and archival research from private collections and government offices. It examines land-water use across rural and urban dwelling, forestlands, private farms, and
riverbeds. Challenging accounts of inexorable progress and apocalyptic decline, it shows the diverse opportunities and threats produced by ecological shocks. Amid broader conversations on ecological crisis and rising sea-levels, it moves beyond narratives of death and doom that dominate coastal environments. It advances a language that does justice to people’s ecology, which may extend beyond the physical ecology of the coast to a place in a broader meshwork that is their universe.