Katherine Boo's book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, has been chosen for the incoming freshman class. It is a non-fiction work set in the slums outside the Mumbai airport. It is a deeply researched and magnificently written account of the lifeworld of the urban poor in the slums of the Global South. In this seminar we shall read and discuss the book, and we'll read it against some other work on thinking about development - its prospects, its failures, its challenges - in a world marked by extraordinary inequalities. This seminar is part of the On the Same Page initiative.
At the centre of my research and teaching interests is a longstanding engagement with the political economy of development and in particular energy and agro-food sectors in Africa. My own training at University College, London and at the University of Michigan was firmly grounded in Anthropology, Development Theory, Ecology and Sociology, initially with a focus on understanding the vulnerability of peasant communities in semi-arid Africa and the dynamics of subsistence and famine crises. While at Berkeley I have tried to deepen my understanding of the intersections between political economy, culture and forms of power. Over the last decade I have devoted most of my time to the oil and gas sector and to the impact of oil in the Gulf of Guinea, especially in the Niger delta region of Nigeria.
For ten years I served as the Director of a research institute, the Institute of International Studies (1994-2004), which promotes cross-area and cross-disciplinary research and training on transnational and global issues. I established with Nancy Peluso the Berkeley Working Group on Environmental Politics, the major centre for cross-disciplinary political ecological research on the Berkeley campus. In addition I have served as the director of the Africa Studies Center, of the Rotary Peace Fellows program, and co-direct our undergraduate Development Studies Program with Professor Gillian Hart.