Research Overview

I am a broadly trained interdisciplinary scholar with research interests that generally fall under scholarships in nature-society relationships, political ecology, post-colonial development, urban studies, citizenship studies, feminist theories, water governance, climate change, natural hazards, human rights, and social justice. My research projects are critical, interdisciplinary, and intersectional, where I investigate complex multi-scalar, multi-process issues, combining my insights and background in the natural and social sciences as well as in the policy world. In exploring the socio-ecological dynamics of international discourses and policies, I am particularly focused on how these are articulated, negotiated, and lived in everyday lives on the ground. My research thus sits at the confluence of a range of theoretical and epistemological framings, with the goal to inform and encourage social justice across a range of scales. I have written extensively on these issues for a variety of interdisciplinary audiences inside and outside of academia. I am keenly interested in research that pushes the boundaries of existing scholarship, in order enrich conceptualizations and theorizations in Geography and beyond. I work to decolonize the academy and pedagogy, introduce non-Eurocentric scholarship in Anglo academia, and thereby transform academic scholarship and knowledge production. I collaborate with policymakers, practitioners, civil society, community groups, and scholars from around the world in research and dissemination. My award-winning research has been funded by a variety of international sources, such as: John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Department for International Development (DFID) UK, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), International Water Management Institute, International Development Research Center (IDRC) Canada, Government of Sweden, Syracuse University, Princeton University, University of Minnesota, King’s College London, Minnesota Human Rights Center, Association of American Geographers, and the Claire Friedlander Family Foundation.

In general terms, I have had long been interested in issues of political ecology of development and social justice as conceptualized and enacted by variously-situated actors, and the ways by which such conceptualizations interact with local understandings of issues such as ‘environmental management’, ‘resource governance’, ‘development’, ‘social justice’ and ‘citizenship’. In this respect, I am interested in environmental governance and the politics of knowledge production, whereby discursive and material realities co-produce and challenge policies, projects, practices, and realities on the ground. I explore the complex ways that processes of development and globalization come to impact poverty, well-being, and socio-ecological change across sites and scales intersectionally, and what this means to broader issues of development, democracy, citizenship, and social justice. With interests and experiences in the developing world, especially South Asia, I investigate issues critically, paying particular attention to complexities of both contemporary social transformations as well as historical dispossessions. My research engages with and makes contributions to different bodies of interdisciplinary scholarship and is grounded in critical, feminist, and anti-colonial epistemologies and methodologies. Methodologically, I engage with both a range of methods, with particular interest in issues of feminist fieldwork, positionality, power relations, decolonizing academia, and research ethics.

My areas of interdisciplinary research fall into three broad interlinked themes: (i) Water governance and social change, (ii) Politics of climate change adaptation and scalar climate justice, (iii) Decolonizing institutions and systems. These are described below:

(i) Water governance and social change –

My past research focused on the intersectionality of gender, class, and policy implications of water management in Bangladesh, with an emphasis on drinking water problems from arsenic contamination of groundwater. I expounded upon the ways that discourses of participation, community, decentralization, and gender equity operate in water management, and in development more broadly, and the implications such discourses have on the ground. I analyzed the ways that water management espouses such narratives, and the ways that complications arise from agencies of both humans and nature in such discourses and practices. A main thrust of the research was to understand the processes by which marginalization, inequalities, and power relations operate in the context of socio-ecological change and development endeavors.

In recent years, I have been investigating the ways that contested water governance mechanisms are affecting the poor and marginalized in informal settlements of mega-cities, and what this means for goals of development, social justice, and the understandings and realizations of the right to water. This research is embedded within broader interests in neoliberal water governance, urban environmental justice, practices of citizenship, and the challenges inherent in materializing the calls for a universal human right to water. This research focuses on how different modalities of water governance result in social inequalities, how the right to water is understood and practiced, and what such processes mean for goals of development, citizenship, social justice, and well-being. Through such research, I query what water justice means in theory and practice. The research was also the basis of the large international conference on ‘The Right to Water’ that I organized in 2010; details available at the conference website: http://www.maxwell.syr.edu/waterconference. The research is also elaborating upon the debates captured in my recent edited book The Right to Water: Politics, Governance and Social Struggles (2012, Routledge: London and New York). The book has been translated into Spanish and Polish. My second edited book Eating, Drinking: Surviving (2017, Springer: Netherlands) is a product of the International Year of Global Understanding of the International Geographical Union, and is an open access book for global circulation. My third edited book Water Politics: Governance, Justice and the Right to Water (2020, Routledge: London and New York), and focuses on issues of water politics, water justice as well as recent controversies over the human right to water. I have also published numerous journal articles, book chapters, and other scholarly pieces related to my research (many of which are available on the Publications page of this website). I have been involved in various collaborative international water-related research projects and advised research groups.

My other water-related interest includes transboundary river sharing around the world, particularly the disputes over the Ganges River in South Asia. She is interested in the ways that socio-ecological transformation from changing river dynamics and hydrology affect not only lives and livelihoods but also international political relations, geopolitics, and discourses of development within and between nation-states.

(ii) Politics of climate change adaptation and scalar climate justice –

My second research interest engages with climate change, socio-ecological impacts, and social justice. This research focuses on the coastal areas of South Asia and the US, and explores the ways that climate change adaptation politics play out in the context of uneven development, gender inequalities, and social practices in places with long histories of floods and tropical cyclones/hurricanes. Water thus continues to be an important factor in this research, as cross-scalar climate justice is imbricated in water-society relationships. My research underscores how climate change adaptation is differently understood, implemented, challenged, and circumvented, and the various ways it affects different groups of people, especially in frontline and marginalized communities, but in entirely gendered ways across scales. Such efforts bring power relations, which occur intersectionally across gender, race, class, and other contextual social axes of difference, to the conversations more carefully and meaningfully as they are often ignored or tokenized in national and international discourses.  Thereby, the dynamics of vulnerabilities, resilience, and livelihood strategies to deal with climate change are better comprehended and cross-scalar climate justice is further clarified. I have been a Visiting Fellow at the International Center for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) at the Independent University of Bangladesh since 2017 for my field research and collaborations. My research on climate adaptation won the 2015 faculty Moynihan Challenge grant from the Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs, for the project “Building Community Capacity to Adapt to Climate Change across Sites, Groups and Scales“. I am also the lead PI in the successful Maxwell 10th Decade Project entitled Citizenship and Climate Change‘, which investigates the complex ways notions and practices of citizenship are imbricated in climate change impacts. This research project attempts to understand the relationship between climate change and citizenship practices in a comparative way across developing and developed/industrialized countries.

(iii) Decolonizing institutions and systems –

As a public intellectual, I am also interested in issues related to academic freedom in higher education, preserving academic integrity and scholarly rigor, as well as addressing issues of marginalization and discrimination in the academy and beyond. Stemming from my long-standing interests in post-colonial and decolonial studies, critical development studies, and transnational feminism, I work on decolonization and transformation of inequitable power structures, epistemologies, and politics. My focus decolonizing institutions, processes, and academia more broadly are particularly timely given the rise of white supremacy, colonial nostalgia, and anti-intellectualism globally. The theorizations and interventions draw from her commitments to fostering inclusive and just academic futures and to advance decolonial justice in both theory and practice, and to embed equity practices within institutions and systems. Given the increasing polarization and neoliberalization of the worlds that we inhabit and what is at stake, attention to these issues are critical.

Beyond academic research, I participate in numerous pro-bono activities and endeavors with various organizations and networks, building community and solidarity both locally and across the globe. I am involved in several professional and academic bodies, such as the Association of American Geographers (AAG), the Institute of British Geographer with the Royal Geographical Society (RGS/IBG), the Gender and Water Alliance (GWA), Bangladesh Environment Network (BEN), Gender and Disasters Network (GDN), etc. I am a founding member of the Participatory Geographies Research Group (PyGyRG) of the RGS/IBG, and past Chair of the Development Geographies Specialty Group (DGSG) of the AAG. Given my interdisciplinary interests and expertise, I regularly carry out reviews of grant proposals, research proposals, peer-reviewing of academic and policy papers, and participate in a wide array of activities with academics, activists, policy-makers and practitioners across the globe. I frequently delivers invited lectures and keynote addresses across disciplines at universities and institutions. My vision is to integrate teaching, research and service/outreach in meaningful and impactful ways for transformational changes.

Details of my various engagements and contributions to and beyond academia are via publications, invited lectures, keynotes and conferences, media and public engagements, service and outreach, teaching and advising. My brief bio and CV are here.

Field Research Photos:

Focus group discussion, Korail slum, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Focus group discussion, Korail slum, Dhaka, Bangladesh
With ICCCAD Research Team, Bangladesh
With ICCCAD Research Team, Bangladesh
Field research group in a rural village, Jessore, Bangladesh
Field research group in a rural village, Jessore, Bangladesh

Benefunder Video on My Research on Water:

Support my research via Benefunder: Click here