The social ecology of natural resource exploitation – India and the Arctic

Time: Tue 2015-12-15 09.00 - 16.30

Location: The seminar room, Teknikringen 74 D, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment

Workshop as part of developing common grounds in research, connecting India, Scandinavia, and the Arctic

What are the trajectories of boom and bust in the exploitation of natural resources? This workshop will focus on both hydropower and minerals from the perspective of cultural and environmental choices rather than as economically-driven necessities. The question has become particularly acute since the slowdown from 2013 in worldwide mining and resource extraction, with falling world market prices for base metals and energy resources leading to abandoned extraction sites, depressed economies, and in many cases failures to adequately deal with environmental changes. This has been particularly true in Arctic Sweden. In states such as India where demand for electricity is only increasing, and where there are limited local energy resources (often highly polluting, notably coal), these cycles are particularly challenging.

Photo by Gunnel Cederlöf

The objective of this workshop is to compare and develop approaches for understanding the social context of resource-extraction booms, why their consequences take the forms they do, and how communities can deal with the cultural, economic, and ecological legacies once the infrastructure is in place or the booms are over. Boom and bust cycles of resource extraction are a recurring and indeed almost ubiquitous feature of global history, with political, cultural, and environmental in addition to economic dimensions. Yet we insist that while cycles may be macro-scale in character, individual communities are the units that must deal most urgently with the consequences. The social, cultural, economic and environmental legacies of large scale resource extraction include both immaterial legacies such as local identities and political geographies, and immaterial legacies – empty river beds, hydro-dams, pollutants, redundant infrastructures, housing facilities, services, and landscapes and ecologies transformed by resource extraction.

Photo by Dag Avango

What effects of large scale resource extraction will persist even after extraction ends? How does society recover and change after villages have been submerged by dams and its inhabitants moved elsewhere? And most importantly: how can communities build new futures based on the legacies of the past? A key part of the workshop will be exploring whether theories of infrastructure such as the Swedish-developed Large Technical Systems model can help explain the interactions between local, regional, and global scales. By providing new insights into how communities interpret and use the material and immaterial legacies of extractive industries and energy infrastructure, this field of study can contribute to current debates within research and policy on how to achieve sustainable resource utilization and economic development.

Venue: The seminar room, Teknikringen 74 D, Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment

Register your participation latest on 8 December by email to Gunnel Cederlöf .

Vegetarian food will be served. Please inform us of any allergies.


9:00                 Introduction

9:15                 ‘Diverging discourses on bauxite mining in Eastern India: Life-supporting hills for adivasis or national treasure chests on barren lands?’

                        Patrik Oskarsson, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

9:45                 ‘Colonization, decolonization, and the history of mining in modern Greenland’

                        Peder Roberts, KTH, Royal Institute of Technology

10:15-10:30    Coffee

10:30-11:15    Comments and discussion

                        Mekhala Krishnamurthy, Shiv Nadar University (SNU), Arne Kaijser, KTH

11:15               ‘People and Resources: Contested Terrains and the Republic’

                        Ajay Dandekar, SNU 

11:45-12:30    Comments and discussion

                        Per Högselius, KTH, Radhika Krishnan, Linnaeus University

12:30-13:30    Lunch

13:30               ‘Drivers of Change and Socio-Ecological Outcomes of Natural Resource Exploitation: Evidence from Field Research Studies in the Western Himalayas’

                        Rinki Sarkar, independent researcher, New Delhi

14:00               ‘Sustainable Communities and the Legacies of Mining in the Nordic Arctic’

                        Dag Avango, KTH

14:30-15:00    Coffee

15:00-15:45    Comments and discussion

                        Jaideep Chatterjee, SNU, Gunnel Cederlöf, KTH

15:45-16:30    Final discussion


Patrik Oskarsson has a PhD (2011) in International Development from the University of East Anglia, UK, and is a researcher based at the Department of Rural and Urban Development in the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden. He has previously been at the University of Gothenburg but was also based in India where he worked as an Assistant Professor at the Azim Premji University. Patrik has carried out collaborative research with civil society groups in central and southern India on the political economy of industrialisation and mining and the possibilities of marginalised groups to make their voices heard. His main focus has been research on land use and land rights of adivasis and the consequences of large-scale mining being proposed in their territories. He has published in South Asia: The Journal of the South Asian Studies Association, Development Studies Research, Extractive Industries & Society and Economic & Political Weekly among other titles. A monograph titled Landlock: Paralysing Dispute over Adivasi Land Rights and Minerals in Central India, based on his PhD, is currently under review with the Australian National University E-Press.

is a historian based at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. He is interested in the connections between describing and controlling environments, with a particular focus on the roles of science and expertise as sources of social and political authority. After working on the history of science and politics in Antarctica he has recently worked on science, mining and concepts of development in northern Sweden, Greenland and Svalbard, with a focus on developments in the twentieth century.

Ajay Dandekar has worked on the issue of Pastoral Nomadic groups, Denotified and Nomadic Communities and early medieval history of the Deccan in India. He has also done work on the concerns of agrarian crisis and farmers suicides. Lately his research interest has spilled over in the issues of resources and conflict in the Central Indian Tribal Heartland. He is a professor of history and a faculty member in the Department of History, School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Shiv Nadar University.

Rinki Sarkar is an economist based in Delhi. Her research work focuses on development concerns and environmental issues in the Western Himalayas and she works independently. Though she is trained as an economist, her research studies have evolved to assume an interdisciplinary thrust in order to ensure a holistic analysis of an interconnected ecosystem that coexists in proximity to expanding human habitations in this region. She engages herself intensively in field-work and treks into the landscape for gathering ‘ground-truthing’ evidence on various facets of the natural environment besides living with the local community for nurturing a social network in order to authenticate the past, the present, as well as future perceptions and aspirations. Traversing through history and long-term monitoring through periodic visits and revisits in these areas is an integral part of her longitudinal research methodology that enables her to perceive and gather gainful insights for unraveling an tracking changing dimensions of a complex and ecologically fragile ecosystem which is intermeshed with livelihood linkages. She has done extensive field studies for mapping socio-ecological trends across a wide geographical expanse of the mountainous mid-Himalayan zones. These areas have become her permanent mountain observatories for tracking and mapping the nature, pace and consequences of rural development and environmental change so that conservation concerns can be deciphered and addressed.

is a historian at the Div. of History of Science, Technology and Environment at KTH in Stockholm. His research mainly deals with the history of large scale natural resource exploitation and the consequences of resource extraction for communities and the environment, with a particular focus on the Polar Regions (Arctic and Antarctic). A closely related research interest concerns the legacies of large scale technological systems for resource extraction and how different stakeholders deal with those legacies when building post-industrial futures. Avango’s research is situated at the interface between archeology and history, based on the theoretical assumption that material objects and environments play an active role in society and therefore should be considered in explanations of historical change. Following from this, he has worked with a methodological approach of combining archival studies with archaeological fieldwork.


Mekhala Krishnamurthy is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at SNU. As a social anthropologist, Mekhala is interested in the ethnographic study of the state and market, and in particular, the political economy, regional histories, everyday lives, knowledge resources, and institutional practices of public systems and programmes in contemporary India. Over the last decade, her research, policy and professional engagements have involved work across a number of field sites and subjects, including women's courts and dispute resolution, community health workers and public health systems, agricultural commodity markets and regulation, and rural development, livelihoods and land acquisition. Her most recent research project, currently being developed into a book manuscript, traverses three decades of transformation in the social, economic and political lives of an agricultural market (mandi) town in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork, the book explores the interconnections of changing agrarian practices, reforming agricultural commodity markets, the dynamics of political participation, and the forces of local, regional and corporate capital as they are experienced and expressed in the everyday lives and relationships of those involved in the complex and volatile work of making and maintaing agricultural markets on the ground in contemporary India.

is professor of History of Technology at KTH. He holds a M.Sc.Eng (technical physics) from Lund University and a Ph.D. in technology and social change from the University of Linköping. He has worked as a civil servant in the 1970s and 80s with futures studies, funding of energy research, and Swedish development aid. Since 1991 he has been based at KTH. His main research interests concern the historical development of infrastructural systems. He has studied different kind of systems (energy systems, transportation systems, communication systems and water systems) in Sweden, the Nordic Countries and Europe, and he is particularly interested in the interaction of infrastructural systems and societies. This is reflected in the title of his latest book, co-authored with Per Högselius and Erik van der Vleuten, Europe’s Infrastructure Transition. Economy, War, Nature (Palgrave, 2015).

Radhika Krishnan completed her Ph.D. from the Centre for Studies in Science Policy, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, India. Her doctoral research attempted to explore the trade unionist Shankar Guha Niyogi’s varied reflections and interventions under the broad rubrics of environment, development and technology. An electrical engineer by training, Radhika has worked with the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment for several years. Her research has essentially looked at the interactions between technological regimes, communities and local ecologies. Her research interests also include the new social movements of the 1970s and 1980s, which articulated the complex response of peasants, labourers and indigenous people to the ‘development’ project presented to them. She is currently a post-doctoral fellow at Linnaeus University (Sweden).

(b. 1973) is an associate professor of history of technology and international relations at KTH. His research has focused on East European, Russian, and Chinese history of science, technology and environment, with a special focus on the making of infrastructures for natural-resource exploitation. His book Red Gas: Russia and the Origins of European Energy Dependence (Palgrave Macmillan 2013) won the 2014 Marshall Shulman Book Prize, awarded by the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES). He has also published extensively on the exploitation of natural resources for electricity generation as well as on the globalization of the nuclear fuel cycle. Together with Arne Kaijser and Erik van der Vleuten, Högselius recently completed the co-authored volume Europe’s Infrastructure Transition: Economy, War, Nature (Palgrave Macmillan 2015, published as one of six volumes in the award-winning book series Making Europe).

Jaideep Chatterjee – an obsessive compulsive multi-disciplinarian, Jaideep is trained as an architect, a historian and an anthropologist. Jaideep’s academic enquiries traverse questions of visual culture, built environment, techno-politics, design, social formations of expertise and nationalism. His research on architects, and design as a form of knowledge in postcolonial India has been published with prestigious academic presses worldwide. Having taught at several universities, in the US including Cornell, University of Cincinnati, he presently, holds a dual appointment, as Associate Professor in the Dept. of Sociology, and the Dept. of Art, Design and performance Arts at the Shiv Nadar University, India. In addition to his academic pursuits, Jaideep actively collaborates with designers, architects, artists and filmmakers to work within the built environment. Most recently he (along with A. B. Lall) was awarded the “Cities that learn Award” in the Living Cities Design Competition organized by the Living Cities Foundation, Washington DC. He also holds an advisory position on several Boards of Studies across prominent Design Schools in India, especially helping them develop innovative design curricula. In his free time, he loves to cook, deconstruct everything from milk cartons to restaurant menus and watch movies endlessly.

is professor of history and is affiliated as researcher at KTH, Division of History of Technology, Science, and Environment. Her work spans the environmental, legal and colonial history of early modern and modern India and the British Empire. Over the years, Cederlöf’s research has focused on relationships between natural conditions, political power, social change, and legal rights. It has particularly targeted the situation of the most vulnerable sections of society during social transformations – dalits (earlier untouchable casts) and adivasis (“tribal” people). A larger study on South India was published as Landscapes and the Law: Environmental Politics, Regional Histories, and Contests over Nature (2008). Her present research investigates governance, subject and citizen rights, and the formation of new polities at the time when the British Empire took shape in Asia, in a region that was particularly exposed to challenging climatic conditions. More specifically it enquires into the role of commerce, law and property, and the enabling and constraining conditions of the ecology, the monsoon, and natural disasters. The study Founding an Empire on India’s North-eastern Frontiers, 1790-1840 (2014) combines climate history and legal history in order to clarify how British rule formed to control the large region where the southwestern part of the Silk Road network linked India to China, which is via east Bengal, today’s northeast India, Burma and Yunnan.

Belongs to: Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment
Last changed: Dec 09, 2015