Dr Ankit Kumar
Department of Geography
Lecturer in Development and Environment
+44 114 222 7937
Full contact details
Department of Geography
Geography and Planning Building
My research interests are situated around climate and energy justice. I enquire justice questions working at the nexus of culture, knowledge and politics, conceptually drawing from postcolonial/anticolonial studies, critical development studies and environmental geographies.
I was a Postdoctoral Researcher at the School of Innovation Sciences, Eindhoven Institute of Technology (TUe) from 2016 to 2020 where I worked on a Dutch Research Council Responsible Innovation programme (NOW-MVI) funded project on smart grids in India. Here I divided my time equally between researching social and institutional aspects of off-grid smart energy systems and teaching on issues of globalisation, development and sustainability at various undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
In an earlier avatar, I worked in a small Indian consultancy firm on carbon finance and feasibility assessment of small-scale renewable energy projects in South Asia. I have a PhD in Geography from Durham University where my thesis was on social and cultural aspects of access to modern energy in rural India. I have a BSc degree in Botany (with honours) from Delhi University and a MSc degree in Natural Resources Management from TERI University.
- Research interests
I am bridging ideas from my doctoral and postdoctoral research to develop postcolonial/anticolonial approaches for climate and energy justice. I am developing this work conceptually on the interfaces of knowledge politics, postcolonial solidarity, development and culture.
The main contributions of my research have been on:
- Critical development geographies of energy: First, I have been thinking about the social and material infrastructure for maintaining energy access and transitions. I have made theoretical interventions to understand how morality and politics of improvisation modulate the role of local and expert knowledge. With this, I further the geographies of improvisation. Second, working with the idea of trusteeship, I propose that techniques of expertise, legitimacy, and subjectivity are involved in politics of governing energy for development projects by non-state actors. Third, drawing on postcolonial theory, I (with Dr Taylor Aiken) have argued for an understanding of community (in community energy) as fluid bonds of solidarity that align and realign differently around different purposes.
- Energy cultures: I have been enquiring how social and cultural practices propagate and are propagated by particular meanings of light and dark, and how these tailor people’s energy use. Comparing these processes in India and the UK (with Dr Shaw), I have argued that there are differences in how the arrival and departure of artificial lighting is perceived in these sites, their similarities demonstrate a planetary connectedness, outside the claims of urbanisation.
- Energy justice and ‘smartness’: I have showed that owing to the interactions between project designs and local culture, energy access projects end up reinforcing the benefits of dominant social groups while excluding subaltern groups. Smartness, when employed in normative digital/technical sense exacerbates these effects. A more nuanced understanding of ‘smartness’ that includes social, economic and governmental aspects can create socially more equitable and responsive energy systems.
Developing these further, there are two future research pathways I am exploring:
- Post-colonial solidarities and politics of energy transitions: As part of a new research agenda I am developing on India’s growing role in the field of energy developments in Sub-Saharan Africa around two small projects.
The first project is titled ‘Between post-colonial solidarity for sustainable energy transitions and neo-colonial extraction: Investigating India’s role in the East African energy landscape’ focuses on India’s role in the energy sector in East Africa. It ask if Indian involvement is predominantly generated by post-colonial solidarity to support countries’ transition towards cleaner forms of energy and extend access to ‘modern’ energy for their citizens or extraction of resources and exploitation of local markets. This is an exploratory project in collaboration with colleagues from University of York, University of Leeds and University of Cambridge.
The second project is titled ‘The Politics of Quality and Standards: A cultural economy of Indian solar products in East Africa’. This is in collaboration with colleagues from University of Cambridge. This project examines how particular ideas of quality and quality-standards help and hinder Indian, Chinese, African and Western products to circulate and establish in the off-grid solar market. It enquires the discourses and knowledges these actors employ to compete with each other.
- Anthropocene and anticolonial politics of climate justice: Here I ask what kind of ethical community might we work towards to reconcile our dilemma of finding unity in a climate-changed world while keeping a politics of difference alive.
- Transforming rural light and dark under planetary urbanisation: Comparing ordinary countrysides in India and the UK. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 45(1), 155-167.
- Beyond technical smartness: Rethinking the development and implementation of sociotechnical smart grids in India. Energy Research & Social Science, 49, 158-168.
- Solar energy for all? Understanding the successes and shortfalls through a critical comparative assessment of Bangladesh, Brazil, India, Mozambique, Sri Lanka and South Africa. Energy Research & Social Science, 48, 166-176.
- Between metis and techne: politics, possibilities and limits of improvisation. SOCIAL & CULTURAL GEOGRAPHY.
- Justice and politics in energy access for education, livelihoods and health: How socio-cultural processes mediate the winners and losers. Energy Research & Social Science, 40, 3-13.
- The Routledge research companion to energy geographies. Local Environment, 23(5), 599-600.
- Cultures of lights. Geoforum, 65, 59-68.
- Expertise, legitimacy and subjectivity: Three techniques for a will to govern low carbon energy projects in India. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 239965442096556-239965442096556.
- A Postcolonial Critique of Community Energy: Searching for Community as Solidarity in India and Scotland. Antipode.
- Purda, Rethinking Darkness (pp. 79-90). Routledge
- Sociomaterial Solar Waste: Afterlives and Lives After of Small Solar, Energy Justice Across Borders (pp. 155-173). Springer International Publishing
- Teaching interests
Keeping decolonisation at the centre of my epistemological endeavour, I teach on multiple ungraduated and postgraduate modules on the following themes:
- Environmental geography: climate justice and politics, energy transitions and energy justice, Anthropocene
- Critical Development geography: alternatives to development, development and environment
- Difference: race, gender, caste, culture
I currently supervise PhD students on:
- Energy access and justice in global South
- Climate change adaptation and indigenous knowledge (supervised with Physical Geography colleague)
- Climate change finance in global South
I am interested in hearing from prospective PhD students interested in overlaps of climate justice, energy justice, energy transitions, infrastructure, environmental geographies, critical development studies and postcolonial studies.