ongoing research projects
tea tasting, auctioning, and industrial reform | I am in the early stages of writing a second book on postcolonial tea circulation in India and across East Africa and Sri Lanka. See the transparent futures? tab for more on this research.
the land in gorkhaland | Since 2006, I have been studying the Gorkhaland agitation, a longstanding movement by Darjeeling’s majority Nepali (or Gorkha) population to form a separate state within the Indian federation. Nepalis form the bulk of the tea plantation workforce, yet most land and political power in the region remains in the hands of non-Nepalis. Scholars have tended to portray struggles for subnational recognition in India as mostly linguistic and cultural, but my research indicates that for many Gorkhas, environmental issues—including ending water shortages and landslides, managing waste, and conserving forests—have become as important to autonomy as the fight against inequality. In many ways, the movement is about claiming a “natural,” rightful place for Nepalis in India, but such claims have been closely bound to ideas about the “nature” of the region itself. Specifically, the Gorkhaland movement intersects with debates over natural resources (mountains, soil, and water); anxieties about the fates of endangered and sacred species (red pandas, snow leopards, and macaque monkeys); and concerns about the regulation of activities that connect these things (road construction, tourism, and hydroelectricity). Bridging social movement theories with feminist theories of justice, this project will show how what counts as a “natural resource,” as a “commodity,” and as an “extractive industry” is as much under debate in India as the question of what counts as an “indigenous group” or a “sovereign state.”
a political ecology of cinchona | Since 2006 I have been exploring Darjeeling's other cash crop: cinchona. The bark of cinchona tree contains quinine, a malaria preventative and key ingredient in tonic water. Like tea, much of the district is covered in cinchona plantations, but unlike tea, the crop has not witnessed the same kind of market resurgence (despite the craft cocktail revolution). This project employs blends ethnographic methods and environmental history and archival analysis to tell a story about nature, health, labor, and empire.
biodynamic agriculture | While conducting research on fair trade certification in Darjeeling, I became interested in the upsurge of biodynamic production. Biodynamic agricultural practices are based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner (of Waldorf School fame) and employ organic methods as well as spiritual principles, many of which were adapted from Hindu beliefs (and many of the farming techniques revolve around the sacredness and utility of the cow). Today, plantation owners have added biodynamic practices to the daily work of Hindu tea plantation workers.
the darjeeling distinction | This book, based on my dissertation research on tea production, explores the entrance of international ethical trade certifications and regionally distinguished terroir labeling to colonially rooted tea plantations in Darjeeling, India. See the tabs the darjeeling distinction and publications for more on this research.