Colloquium Series “Cooking up Empowerment: Imagining Technology and Time in Rural Himachal Pradesh”

2018 Aug 24, Friday
Seminar Hall, 10th Floor, Pixel A (Azim Premji University)

About the Lecture

Efforts to provide ‘modern’ and ‘improved’ energy access under the Sustainable Development Goals are animated by the desire to empower women by providing them certain types of energy technologies and fuels. Discourses to ‘empower’ women are powerful motivators in development efforts – whether used by international aid organizations, national governments, or NGOs. However, in the context of the SDG related to energy, gender ‘empowerment’ takes on an apolitical meaning associated with the adoption and use of certain kinds of energy technologies. In May 2016, India launched an ambitious energy program to dramatically expand access to ‘modern’ cooking energy services to its citizens by directing fossil fuel companies to provide Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) to hitherto unconnected families. This program, called the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana, provided 20 million new Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) connections in its first year, over 50 million connections till date, and is widely hailed as a success within and outside India. A big driver of this program was a desire to give ‘respect’ to rural Indian women, to empower them, and to improve their lives. Gendered social transformation is also integral to the motivations of actors like the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (GACC), who support organizations promoting improved biomass cookstoves. But how do these development imaginations unfold on the ground? I examine what access to ‘modern’ cooking energy services looks like to rural families in India as they go about their everyday lives. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork in India conducted since 2013, I pay close attention to what individual and family aspirations for a good life look like, and how these aspirations relate to energy services. I examine if and how new energy technologies and fuels change people’s lives, and I analyze what constellation of other life changes are imbricated in energy decisions. In this talk, I focus on my analyses in rural Himachal Pradesh, and examine the connections between agrarian political economy and access to new forms of cooking energy. I examine the theoretical Empowerment Imaginary integral to the Ujjwala Yojana, and compare it with the way LPG is in practice woven into the fabric of rural Himachali life.


About the Speaker

Deepti Chatti is a PhD Candidate at Yale University in the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and a certificate candidate in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Deepti’s doctoral dissertation uses a feminist political ecology lens to critically analyze household cooking energy transitions in rural India. Based on 18 months of multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork, her research studies the everyday cooking energy technologies and practices of low-income rural families in Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka, and the development actors that attempt to transition families to ‘clean’ cooking solutions. Her dissertation also investigates the way development research is carried out on the ground through randomized control trials.

Deepti has an MPhil from Yale University, an MS from Stanford University, and a BE from Osmania University. She draws on her interdisciplinary academic training in engineering, social sciences, and the humanities, and her work experience as a policy researcher, to inform her research on the relationships between humans and the environment. Deepti’s situates her work at the intersection of development studies, critical human geography, environmental anthropology, and feminist and post colonial science and technology studies.