"Extractive Ecologies: Fossil Fuels, Global Capital, and Postcolonial Development in India, 1870 - 1975" asks how a singular dependence on coal as the dominant energy resource of the nation shaped the politics of democracy and development in India during the twentieth century. Focusing on the formation of the mining complexes of India's eastern coal belt, this research documents how these areas came to be regarded as extreme examples of "developmental failure" under the postcolonial state, becoming marked by a politics of widespread corruption, anti-state violence, adivasi or first-nations secession movements, and state-sponsored paramilitaries. These political forms, I argue, were not aberrations external to postcolonial India's model of democratic development, but were indeed historical reflections and sustaining aspects of an extractive economy that powered India's developmental ambitions. Reconstructing the formation of this social world of extraction from its origins in the global scramble for carbon resources during the late colonial period to the years of political crisis preceding India's coal nationalization in the 1970s, "Extractive Ecologies" offers a new interpretation of India's postcolonial history that brings issues of the environment, law, state violence, and indigenous identity to the center of the historiography of development and decolonization.
This project draws from recently released and rare archives in India, the United Kingdom, and the United States in Bangla and English, including regional court records, private company papers, geological surveys, the land registers of coal landholders, trade union newspapers, and the personal manuscript collections of Indian bureaucrats, economists, and scientists. Portions of this work have been presented at Yale University, Ashoka University, Columbia University, the New York Center for Global Asia, Harvard University, Presidency University, the Annual South Asia Conference at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the American Society for Environmental History's Annual Conference, Brown University, Duke University, the Abu Dhabi Institute, the New School for Social Research, and New York University's South Asia Center.