Environmental Science, Wageningen University, the Netherlands

Fellowship : October 2017 to June 2018

Discipline(s) : Environmental science

Pays : the Netherlands

Research project: The Self and the Political: History of social movement against large dams

In the last three decades, the social movement against the large dam on river Narmada in India has powerfully challenged the notion of development adopted since independence. This movement is arguably one of the most important dissenting political and social thoughts in recent Indian history. This proposal makes a case for writing a history of the social movement through subjective lens of the pioneering feminist scholar-activists. This inquiry on history of the social movement will foreground the making of the “agentic subjective selves” of these citizen activists who provided the force, thinking, and motivation for the movement leading to the significant shifts in the policy on large dams not just in India but also internationally. This research inquiry will be a genealogical analysis —a critical history of the present. It will be a reflexive interpretation of processes, events and ideas leading to the dissenting practices, and it will shed light on how the contemporary practices and institutions of the social movement emerged out of struggles, conflicts, alliances, and contradictions involving both intrapsychic and intersubjective agentic selves.


Esha Shah is an engineer by training and anthropologist and historian of science and technology by professional choice and self-learning. Since her doctorate from the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, she has worked on history and anthropology of technology in India on the divide of modernity and democracy. More recently, she has been developing her research interests on the way human subjectivity relates to modes of rationality, including objectivity in science.

She has held research and teaching positions at the Institute of Social and Economic Change (ISEC) in Bangalore, Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at University of Sussex, UK, and Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of Maastricht University, the Netherlands. Between 2013 and 2015 she was a fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla where she worked on a monograph that re-interprets the history of reductionism in genetic science over the twentieth-century as seen through the subjective lenses of life-histories of the pioneering scientists. In January 2017 she joined the department of Environmental Sciences at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands in the position of Assistant Professor.

Major publications

SHAH, Esha. A Tale of Two Biographies: The Myth and Truth of Barbara McClintock,History and Philosophy of Life Sciences, 2016, 38 : 18.

SHAH, Esha. ‘Rosalind Franklin and her Science-in-the-Making: a Situated, Sexual, and Existential Portrait’, Yearbook of Women’s History/Jaarboek voor vrouwengeschiedenis, Special Issue on Gender and Genes, 2013, 33, 127-146.

SHAH, Esha. ‘A life wasted making dust’: affective histories of dearth, death, debt and farmers’ suicides in India’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 2012, 39 (5): 1159-79.

SHAH, Esha. ‘Telling Otherwise: A Historical Anthropology of Tank Irrigation Technology in South India’ Technology and Culture, 2008, 29(3): 652-674.

SHAH, Esha. Social Designs: Tank Irrigation Technology and Agrarian Transformation in Karnataka, South India, New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2003