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Title:Encircling the sun: A political ecology of solar development in India
Author(s):Stock, Ryan J.
Director of Research:Birkenholtz, Trevor
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Birkenholtz, Trevor
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Bassett, Thomas; Koshy, Susan; Ribot, Jesse
Department / Program:Geography & Geographic InfoSci
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):solar development
political ecology
climate mitigation
renewable energy
Abstract:Renewable energy transitions are accelerating in the Global South, nowhere more quickly than in semi-arid rural India. Expanding energy production in India is seen as necessary to raise the 363 million poor out of poverty. India is swiftly transitioning to low-carbon electricity generation through solar park development. Indeed, solar parks comprise the lion’s share of India’s Nationally Determined Contributions to the 2015 UN Paris Climate Agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Despite exceeding emissions reduction targets, many social development claims remain unrealized on the ground. Using two solar parks as case studies (Gujarat Solar Park and Kurnool Solar Park), this dissertation asks the following 4 research questions: 1) How are solar development and project-associated land enclosures discursively rationalized by the state?; 2) How and through what processes are the costs and benefits of the Gujarat Solar Park and Kurnool Solar Park distributed across differently situated individuals?; 3) How are project-associated land enclosures resisted by adjacent resource-dependent people? 4) Does the Gujarat Solar Park influence already gendered social-economic-political asymmetries? To answer these questions, this dissertation draws on and seeks to advance scholarship from feminist political ecology and critical development studies focused on gendered agrarian change, land enclosures and renewable energy development. I conducted fieldwork in India in 2018 using mixed methods and field-based research., including critical discourse analysis, household surveys, semi-structured interviews and participant observation. This dissertation argues that solar parks are rationalized via discursive formations of the climate crisis, economic development and ecological modernization. These discursive formations rationalize greener capital accumulation in neoliberal India that don’t address asymmetric power relations, despite discourses otherwise (research question 1). This study identifies regimes of dispossession via an ascendant resource/state looking to capitalize on ‘wasteland’ geographies. The modalities by which solar development transpires dispossesses smallholder peasants of land and livelihoods, creating a surplus population without employment opportunities (research question 2). Resistance against solar park development ‘from below’ takes diverse forms, including protests, blockades, lawsuits, slander and even suicide. Resistance among affected populations is often contingent on social positionality (research question 3). Land enclosures have also dispossessed resource-dependent women of access to firewood, producing new patterns of gendered social differentiation. Intersectional subject-positions are (re)produced vis-à-vis the exclusion of access to firewood in the land enclosed for the solar park, lack of employment at the solar park, and exclusionary Corporate Social Responsibility activities. Lower-caste and lower-class women from adjacent villages affectively express their resistance in emotional geographies (research question 4). India has become a global power broker for solar development. Through its new leadership in the International Solar Alliance, India will seek to latitudinally export its large-scale dispossessive model of solar development throughout the Global South. Ergo, India’s solar state has become a major geopolitical force that is reshaping relations of production in agrarian systems globally. The vast dispossession experienced by smallholding peasants in these case studies has implications throughout the Global South and reestablishes the importance of answering the classical agrarian question in the neoliberal Anthropocene. Indisputably, a breakneck transition to renewable energy generation in India is necessary to stave off additional emissions driving a changing climate system that delivers unforetold present and future natural and political hazards in this underdeveloped nation. However, low-carbon electricity generation doesn’t positively “transform the lives” of adjacent residents, a raison d'être for solar park development. While the Government of India develops more solar parks to profitably mitigate climate change and generate much-needed renewable energy, marginalized populations shouldn’t be left in the dark.
Issue Date:2019-04-16
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Ryan Stock
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-08-23
Date Deposited:2019-05

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