My research and teaching brings social anthropology to bear on contemporary problems, projects and technologies of ‘development’. Details of my current research can be found below. I joined the University of Edinburgh in 2011 with a regional specialisation in South Asia and am Deputy Director of the University of Edinburgh's Global Development Academy. I have carried out ethnographic fieldwork in India, Papua New Guinea and Scotland with support from the Leverhulme Trust, the Economic and Social Research Council, and the Royal Anthropological Institute, among others.
Infrastructure: From a focus on large-scale industrial development projects like India’s Special Economic Zones to a focus on technologies for energy generation and storage in places where there is no electricity grid, my research has involved an engagement with the social and material relationships that constitute infrastructure. I am currently co-Investigator on an ESRC funded research project ‘Off the Grid: Relational Infrastructures for Fragile Futures’ (2013-15) that explores infrastructures for health and energy in rural India, Papua New Guinea and Scotland (www.lifeoffthegrid.net).
Business and Development: My research is increasingly focused on the role of multinational corporations and social enterprises as agents of development, exploring the moralities and relationships that are being built into or shaped by market based approaches to the delivery of goods and services to the global poor. I am co-founder of the Centre for New Economies of Development and lead the ESRC’s Seminar Series, ‘Doing Good by Doing Well: Capitalism, Humanitarianism and International Development’ (2014-2017).
Solar Energy and Artificial Light: Since 2011 I have been following the work of solar engineers and NGOs involved in designing and distributing solar photovoltaic (PV) lighting systems to people who live without reliable access to mains electricity across rural South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and the Pacific. As governments, international development donors and businesses commit themselves to realising targets for universal energy access this research examines the relationships involved in creating markets for renewable energy technologies in contexts of global poverty and the values, practices and meanings that mediate the consumption of energy, particularly lighting. I have published occasional field notes from this material at The Solar Assemblage.
Work and labour: My doctoral and post-doctoral research projects were focused on the lived experience and politics of industrial work and labour in contemporary India. I have written about the impact of post-liberalisation economic reforms on the governance of space, hopes and aspirations for social mobility through industrial work, and the relationship between technology, gender and identity. A book based on this research, Dream Zones: Anticipating Capitalism and Development in India, will be published by Pluto Press in April 2014.
As well as a commitment to field based, ethnographic research my research is built on an on-going engagement with the issues I write about. Before joining the University of Edinburgh I worked for the International Labour Organisation and the Dutch Centre for Research on Multinationals. I am currently a Technical Advisor to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, a non-profit research and advocacy group that promotes social and environmental justice in the global solar industry. I am also an advisory board member at SCENE, an Edinburgh based social enterprise that supports community energy projects, with whom I am collaborating on the Scottish Government funded project, ‘Towards Resilience: Building Community Renewables in Orissa, India’ (2014-2017).