We recently spoke with Prof. Prakash Kashwan.
What does your research address?
My research interests reside primarily in the area of environmental politics and policy, with a particular emphasis on the politics of access to and control over natural resources. I investigate and explain environmental outcomes as a function of institutions (such as property rights) and power asymmetries within a society. In addition to considering the effect of environmental policies and programs in shaping environmental outcomes, I investigate their effects on different social groups. It is worth mentioning that for large sections of populations within developing countries, environmental resources such as land, water, and forests, are the primary sites of struggles for citizenship. Beyond this broad portrayal of my research, I would like to mention one key project on which I am working.
As part of a book manuscript (with a provisional title of Democracy in the Woods: Negotiations over Forest Property Rights in India), I am analyzing the fascinating dynamic unleashed by India’s Forest Rights Act of 2006. It is a statute which seeks to recognize and restitute to forest dependent people the property rights that were written off by the Imperial Forest Department in colonial India. The burden of policies and institutions put in place by colonial governments was shouldered disproportionately by forest-dependent people who have been historically marginalized. It does not come as a surprise then that the post-colonial governments in Asia, Africa, and Latin America happily carried on with the institutions and policies inherited from colonial governments. Now, more than half a century after India’s independence the parliament seeks to undo some of these excesses. I employ a combination of cross-sectional statistical analysis and rigorous qualitative inquiry to understand these political processes and to explain the outcomes of these attempted reforms.
What about teaching?
The research that I describe above provides me with some of the most exciting teaching materials. In teaching courses such as ‘politics of environment and development’, and ‘non-western politics’, I transport students to the societies and part of the world they have not experienced personally. Going by the response so far, I would say students are very excited about these journeys and what they can learn in the process. As you can imagine, negotiating the spatial and the intellectual distances does get difficult at times. But we work together to find the best possible route to having fun while grappling with some of the most tedious questions of our times.
What brought you to Senegal recently?
I have been associated with the ‘Responsive Forest Governance Initiative’ (RFGI), which is a joint program of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa. I reviewed theories of representation and accountability with the aim of exploring how existing research and scholarship might be employed for this research on forest governance. The RFGI hosted a research methods workshop in Dakar, Senegal between January 7-13, 2012 to help RFGI researchers to think through their research questions and research methods. The meeting was organized at the island of Goree, which used to be a key point in the slave trade and is now a UNESCO heritage site. I was invited to the meeting as a resource person to assist the teams on research methods and to make presentations on basic concepts in conceptualization and conduct of research project on such complex questions. Many of the RFGI researchers are PhD students, or are considering taking up graduate education, and all of us had a great time together. I believe these kinds of research initiatives provide wonderful opportunities for a very constructive engagement between academics, policymakers, and young researchers. And, I learned a great deal by being there and interacting with representatives from different sectors.