Category Archives: Readings

One Valley and a Thousand: Dams, Nationalism, and Development by Daniel Klingensmith,

 By the end of the twentieth century, more then 45,000 large dams were built world wide displacing millions of people, and dramatically altering both ecosystems and social systems centered on rivers. A majority of these dams were constructed after 1945. This book seeks to explain the enormous global investment in dams since 1945 and explores their connections to political ideologies. It shows the lack of concern and awareness of policymakers and electorates about the human tragedies. It also sheds light on the disappointing performace of many river valley projects. The author traces the history of the politics and the political culture that influenced economic and technical decisions in the creation of particular dams in India and the United States. In doing so, he contributes to a broader discussion on the politcal significance of dams worldwide, and of the connections between development and nationalism. Continue reading

Article : Historical Validity of Mullaperiyar Project by R. Seenivasan, EPW

This historical analysis of the Periyar project questions the arguments and some of the contemporary claims made about the project’s engineering and construction, and its environmental impact. Far from being an environmentally destructive project, this was a “pacifist” scheme when it was built. The article throws light on these issues by analysing historical documents.

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Publication : Engineers in India : Industrialisation, Indianisation and the State, 1900-47

Aparajith Ramnath, Engineers in India : Industrialisation, Indianisation and the State, 1900-47. Ph.D. Thesis. Imperial College London,  2013

“This thesis offers a collective portrait of an important group of scientific and technical practitioners in India from 1900 to 1947: professional engineers. It focuses on engineers working in three key sectors: public works, railways and private industry. Based on a range of little-used sources, it charts the evolution of the profession in terms of the composition, training, employment patterns and work culture of its members. The thesis argues that changes in the profession were both caused by and contributed to two important, contested transformations in interwar Indian society: the growth of large-scale private industry (industrialisation), and the increasing proportion of ‘native’ Indians in government services and private firms (Indianisation). Continue reading

Book : Reigning the River

Anne Rademacher, Reigning the River: Urban Ecologies and Political Transformation in Kathmandu. Durham : Duke University Press, 2011

“A major contribution to the nascent anthropology of urban environments, Reigning the River illuminates the complexities of river restoration in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital and one of the fastest-growing cities in South Asia. In this rich ethnography, Anne M. Rademacher explores the ways that urban riverscape improvement involved multiple actors, each constructing ideals of restoration through contested histories and ideologies of belonging. She examines competing understandings of river restoration, particularly among bureaucrats in state and conservation-development agencies, cultural heritage activists, and advocates for the security of tens of thousands of rural-to-urban migrants settled along the exposed riverbed. Rademacher conducted research during a volatile period in Nepal’s political history. Continue reading

Books : Technocracy in East and Southeast Asia

Joel Andreas, Rise of the Red Engineers. The Cultural Revolution and the Origins of China’s New Class. Stanford : Stanford University Press, 2009

“Rise of the Red Engineers explains the tumultuous origins of the class of technocratic officials who rule China today. In a fascinating account, author Joel Andreas chronicles how two mutually hostile groups—the poorly educated peasant revolutionaries who seized power in 1949 and China’s old educated elite—coalesced to form a new dominant class. After dispossessing the country’s   propertied classes, Mao and the Communist Party took radical measures to eliminate class distinctions based on education, aggravating antagonisms between the new political and old cultural elites. Continue reading

Books : Environmental History in South Asia

Guha Ramachandra, The  unquiet woods (Twentieth Anniversary Edition): Ecological Change and Peasant Resistance in the Himalaya, New Delhi : Orient Blackswan, 2010

“Popular initiatives to halt deforestation in the Himalaya, such as the Chipko movement, are globally renowned. It is less well known that these movements have a history stretching back more than a hundred years. A proper understanding of this long duration within the forests of submontane North India required the marriage of two scholarly traditions: the sociology of peasant protest and the ecologically oriented study of history.
Twenty years ago there appeared on this subject an unknown author’s first book: The Unquiet Woods (1989) by Ramachandra Guha. Fairly quickly, the book came to be recognized as not just another study of dissenting peasants but as something of a classic which had willy nilly opened up a whole new field— environmental history in South Asia. Continue reading

Books : Nuclear Power in India

Mathai Manu, Nuclear Power, Economic Development Discourse and the Environment. The Case of India, London ; New York : Routledge, 2013

“Nuclear power is often characterized as a “green technology.” Technologies are rarely, if ever, socially isolated artefacts. Instead, they materially represent an embodiment of values and priorities. Nuclear power is no different. It is a product of a particular political economy and the question is whether that political economy can helpfully engage with the challenge of addressing the environmental crisis on a finite, inequitable and shared planet. For developing countries like India, who are presently making infrastructure investments which will have long legacies, it is imperative that these investments wrestle with such questions and prove themselves capable of sufficiency, greater equality and inclusiveness. Continue reading

Book: The Untiring Indian

Shashi K. Gulhati, The Untiring Indian : Lifestory of Mr. N. D. Gulhati: A Visionary Water Resources Engineer, New Delhi: MacMillan Publishers India, 2011

“A developing nation such as India is built by the untiring effort of thousands, rather, hundreds of thousands of its citizens. Sometimes circumstances demand that everyone work in concert, as Indians did under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi in their quest for independence from colonial rule. Most other times, however, it is groups of various sizes or just individuals who work untiringly in their respective sphere of activity. In a large, diverse and growing country like India, there are many spheres of activity that need nurturing to build the nation. Nation building does require that we work with national development as the prime objective. It calls for us to sacrifice, to shun smaller, self-serving goals and to focus on larger causes. It demands that we work with integrity, commitment and a genuine concern for others. Those that do are, or ought to be, our national heroes. It is they who should be our youth’s ‘role models’. Role models play a very significant role in modeling our lives.The shape that a nation takes is determined by the role models it chooses. Continue reading

Review: Scholars and Prophets

« The Fascination for India », La Vie des idées, 11 March 2013

Review by Jules Naudet (Translated by Rohini Rangachari)

Roland Lardinois, Scholars and Prophets. Sociology of India from France 19th-20th Centuries. New Delhi: Social Science Press, 2013

“Since the 18th century, India has been portrayed in contradictory ways. While scholarly knowledge is based on the philological study of texts, literary Orientalism expresses its fascination for a society well-known to preserve the values of order and hierarchy. For Roland Lardinois the anthropology of Louis Dumont illustrates the ambiguity of these discourses.”

Continue reading

Books: Dams and Development in South Asia

Sanjeev Khagram, Dams and Development. Transnational Struggles for Water and Power. New York, Cornell University Press, 2004

“Big dams built for irrigation, power, water supply, and other purposes were among the most potent symbols of economic development for much of the twentieth century. Of late they have become a lightning rod for challenges to this vision of development as something planned by elites with scant regard for environmental and social consequences—especially for the populations that are displaced as their homelands are flooded. In this book, Sanjeev Khagram traces changes in our ideas of what constitutes appropriate development through the shifting transnational dynamics of big dam construction.  Continue reading

Books: Urban Governance in India

Joël Ruet, Stéphanie Tawa-Lama Rewal, Governing India’s Metropolises, New Delhi: Routledge, 2009.

“Urban governance today is characterized by a multiplicity of actors involved in the management of local affairs. The questions for inquiry are: who are the individuals and institutions, public and private, who actually plan and manage urban affairs? In what ways do they do so? Whose interests are accommodated, and under what conditions can co-operative action be taken? And, more generally, in what ways are interactions between the many actors of urban governance patterned?  Continue reading

Books: Indian and Chinese Engineers in the Silicon Valley

Anna Lee Saxenian, Yasuyuki Motoyama, Xiaohong Quan, Local and global networks of immigrant professionals in Silicon Valley. San Francisco : Public Policy Institute of California, 2002. 

“Foreign-born entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley are becoming agents of global economic change, and their increased mobility is fueling the emergence of entrepreneurial networks in distant locations. In this report, AnnaLee Saxenian investigates this development by drawing on the first large-scale survey of foreign-born professionals in Silicon Valley. Focusing on first-generation Indian and Chinese immigrants, the report compares their participation in local and global networks both to one another and to that of native-born professionals. The results indicate that local institutions and social networks within ethnic communities are more important than national or individual characteristics in explaining entrepreneurial behavior. The report also suggests that the so-called brain drain from India and China has been transformed into a more complex, two-way process of “brain circulation” linking Silicon Valley to urban centers in those countries.” 


Bernard P. Wong, The Chinese in Silicon Valley. Globalization, Social Networks, and Ethnic Identity. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005.

“The Chinese in Silicon Valley examines the complex and ever-growing role of Chinese American scientists and engineers in Silicon Valley. Globalization brings workers from many different countries and cultures together, impacting more than just their work environments. The Chinese who settle in Silicon Valley must learn to prosper despite changes in cultural identity, family life, and often citizenship. They learn how to utilize new social networks and make sense of a shifting ethnic identity. The Chinese community in Silicon Valley is being developed with the advantages and constraints of many factors: the new global economy, technology, the Chinese immigrants’ traditional culture, and the American host culture. Bernard Wong shows that the formation of Chinese American ethnic identity and community is a result of this globalization and transnationalism. This informative book presents important new knowledge on the connection between Chinese ethnicity and highly-skilled labor and entrepreneurship in Silicon Valley. Secondary statistical data combined with primary personal interview data makes this a detailed and interesting study of globalization, social networks, and ethnic identity.”


Shenglin Chang, The Global Silicon Valley Home. Lives and Landscapes within Taiwanese American Transpacific Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2006.

“The economic boom of the 1990s that led to the rapid rise of computer hardware and software companies (on both sides of the Pacific Rim) also led to the rise of a trans-Pacific commuter culture, a culture in which thousands of Taiwanese-born high-tech engineers realized that they could greatly increase their career opportunities by establishing a life-style that allowed them and their families to regularly commute between two homes, one in Silicon Valley and the other in Taiwan. The Global Silicon Valley Home takes a close look at how participants in the jet-set, wired-to-the-Net, trans-Pacific commuter culture have invented new ways of thinking about how their homes reflect their personal identities.”


See Also:

Anna Lee Saxenian Silicon Valley’ s new immigrant entrepreneurs. San Francisco : Public Policy Institute of California, 1999.

S. S. Kshastriy. Silicon Valley greats. Indians who made a difference to technology and the world. Delhi : Vikas, 2003.

Books: German Engineers

Kees Gispen, New Profession, Old Order. Engineers and German Society, 1815-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990

“New Profession, Old Order explores the creative tension between modern technology and preindustrial Germany. It offers an explanation of why the engineering profession is so successful in transforming the physical world, did not achieve the professional power, cohesion, and prestige that its technological accomplishments would seem to have warranted. On the one hand, engineers were agents of modern instrumental rationality, specialization, practical knowledge, and entrepreneurial capitalism – forces antiasthetical to the quasi-aristocratic world of Bildung and bureaucracy that was the life blood of the preindustrial social hierarchy. On the other hand, it was this latter universe in which engineers had to survive and by whose standards they were judged for membership in the educated middle class or for access to prestigious careers. The result was an orientation that combined the old and the new in ways that were at once uniquely German and paradigmatic for modern industrial society.”

See Also:

Peter Lundgreen, André Grelon (eds), Ingenieure in Deutschland, 1770-1990. Frankfurt & New York: Campus Verlag, 1994

Marie-Bénédicte Daviet-Vincent, “Anciennes et nouvelles élites dans l’administration sous la République de Weimar: Trois fronts contre le monopole des juristes”, in Alain Chatriot, Dieter Gosewinkel, Figurationen des Staates in Deutschland und Frankreich 1870-1945. München; Oldenburg Wissenschaftsverlag, 2006

C.W.R. Gispen, “German Engineers and American Social Theory: Historical Perspectives on Professionalization”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol 30, N°3, July 1988

Kees Gispen, “The Long Quest for Professional Identity: German Engineers in Historical Perspective, 1850-1990.”, in Peter Meiksins and Chris Smith, Engineering Labour. Technical Workers in Comparative Perspective. London and New York: Verso, 1996

Publication: Working Class Housing

Vanessa Caru, Des toits sur la Grève. Le logement des travailleurs et la question sociale à Bombay (1850-1950). Paris: Armand Colin, 2013. 

“Bombay, capitale indienne de l’économie et des services, forte de 20 millions d’habitants, s’est hissée au rang de cinquième métropole mondiale. Pôle d’attraction des migrations, sa croissance s’est faite au prix de fortes inégalités, si bien qu’aujourd’hui plus de la moitié de la population de la ville vit dans des bidonvilles, sur 6 % de la superficie urbaine.
Ce problème crucial n’est pas récent. La question du logement des plus pauvres a en effet émergé, dès le tournant du XXe siècle, comme une question politique majeure. Les autorités coloniales, puis le Parti du Congrès à partir des années 1930, ont choisi d’en faire l’un des principaux terrains du traitement politique de la question sociale.
Réfutant une approche longtemps prédominante dans le domaine de l’histoire urbaine des mondes coloniaux, selon laquelle l’urbanisme colonial est un processus imposé par le haut, cet ouvrage démontre combien le gouvernement colonial a été perméable à l’agitation sociale, qu’il a tenté de juguler en construisant des immeubles pour loger la main-d’œuvre industrielle, jetant littéralement des toits sur la grève. L’intérêt manifesté par les autorités pour ce problème et leur intervention précoce dans cette sphère ont également contribué à l’émergence de nouveaux terrains de négociation et de confrontation entre les travailleurs et le pouvoir, et de moyens de lutte spécifiques, comme la création de syndicats de locataires des classes populaires.
Fruit d’un travail mené à partir d’archives en partie inédites, cette étude apporte un éclairage nouveau sur la nature et les mécanismes de la domination coloniale, tout en complétant l’analyse des formes de mobilisation des travailleurs urbains indiens, qui s’était jusqu’alors limitée à la seule sphère du travail. Elle fournit, enfin, une perspective historique sur l’un des processus les plus marquants de la production de l’espace à Bombay, l’accaparement des ressources urbaines par les classes les plus aisées, établissant le rôle qu’y ont joué les autorités coloniales et les élites indiennes. ”


Chapitre liminaire : les raisons d’un silence (1850-1896)
Première partie : la fabrique d’un problème politique, le logement des travailleurs
1. L’épidémie de peste comme révélateur (1896-1914)
2. Eradiquer l’habitat insalubre (1898-1918)
3. Elaborer un habitat modèle ? réalisations et limites de la politique de logement du bombay city improvement trust
Deuxième partie : le traitement de la question sociale par le logement
4. Le logement devenu une urgence politique (1917-1920)
5. Mesures politiques et politique technique (1918-1928)
6. Logement patronal, logement colonial et contrôle de l’agitation ouvrière (1919-1934)
Troisième partie : le logement ouvrier, entre hégémonie nationaliste et nouvelles revendications populaires
7. Le logement populaire à l’heure des réformes électorales (1934-1937)
8. Contrôler les faubourgs ouvriers, la question du logement sous le congress raj (1937-1939)
9. « Jam yesterday, jam tomorrow, but never jam today », la politique de logement aux premiers temps de l’indépendance”

See Also: 

Vanessa Caru « La fabrique du logement ouvrier à Bombay », Histoire urbaine 2, n°19, 2007. Available here.

Vanessa Caru, « Où se loge le politique ? Mouvement des locataires et politisation des subalternes, Bombay (1920-1940) », Revue d’Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine, Vol. 58, n° 4, 2011

Book: Social Mobility

Jules Naudet, Entrer dans l’élite. Parcours de réussite en France, aux Etats-Unis et en Inde. Paris: PUF, 2012

“Cet ouvrage analyse la manière dont des personnes originaires de milieux modestes et ayant accédé aux positions les plus prestigieuses du secteur privé, de la haute fonction publique et de l’université, parviennent à s’ajuster à leur nouveau statut social. Réussissent-elles à se « convertir » à leur nouveau groupe ? Cherchent-elles à conserver des liens forts avec leur milieu d’origine?? Comment gèrent-elles la contradiction de cette double appartenance ? Jules Naudet répond à ces questions en s’appuyant sur une enquête menée en France, en Inde et aux États-Unis, où il a recueilli près de 160 récits de vie de personnes ayant connu une ascension sociale exceptionnellement forte. Tandis que les Indiens témoignent avant tout d’un attachement profond à leur milieu d’origine, les Américains minimisent le contraste, donnant l’impression que la réussite « va de soi ». Enfin, les Français opposent deux mondes profondément différents, voire irréconciliables. Pour mener à bien l’analyse de ce riche matériau empirique, Jules Naudet propose un renouvellement de la problématique de la mobilité sociale et des outils théoriques traditionnellement mobilisés par les chercheurs travaillant sur cette question.”

 See Also:

Jules Naudet, « Castes, untouchability and social success in India », Books & Ideas, 18 March 2010. Available online.

Jules Naudet, “Paying Back to Society. Upward Social Mobility among Dalits.”, Contributions to Indian Sociology, Vol. 42, n°3, Oct. 2008

S. M. Dubey, Social mobility among the professions: study of the professions in a transitional Indian city, Bombay, Popular Prakashan, 1975.

Rajeshwari Desphande, Suhas Palshikar, “Occupational Mobility: How much does caste matter?”, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 43, n°34, 2008

C. Rajagopalan, Jaspal Singh, “The Indian Institutes of Technology: Do They Contribute to Social Mobility?”, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 3, N°14, 1968