Welcome to MIDS - A National Institute for Social Science Research




Karen Coelho
Assistant Professor
Madras Institute of Development Studies
79, Second Main Road, Gandhinagar,
Adyar, Chennai - 600 020, Tamil Nadu, INDIA.
E-mail:  karen.coelho@gmail.com / karenc@mids.ac.in
Tel: 0091-44-24412589 / 24419771 Extn: 318, Fax: 0091 - 44 - 24910872

Residence: S 45 35th Cross Street, Besantnagar, Chennai 600 090, INDIA. Tel: + 91 44 24465461



ABSTRACT:  Urban Anthropologist working as Assistant Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), Chennai, focusing on reforms in municipal governance, informal labour, urban ecologies, and urban civil society.  Teaches modules on History of Development Thought and Ethnographic and Qualitative Methods at MIDS.





Currently (2013) leading a short study, commissioned by the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission, on best practices in slum improvement at international, national (Indian) and local (Chennai) scales.


2012-2013:  Conducted a study of economic planning and governance in small and medium towns, with a focus on Ambur town and its leather industry.


2012.  Completed the first of a three-part study called “Locations and Livelihoods”, which examines how spatial factors determine the working options and strategies of the urban poor.  Part I examined work and livelihoods in the slum resettlement colony of  Kannagi Nagar, Chennai. 


Helped build an interdisciplinary collaborative research program called “Rethinking Informal Labour in Globalising and Urbanising Contexts in India”.   


Oct 2010 to June 2011:  Completed a study of Urban Reforms in Small and Medium Towns of Tamil Nadu, under the Urban Infrastructure Reforms Facility (UIRF) program of the School of Habitat Studies, TISS, Mumbai.


2006-2008: Principal Investigator on a  comparative study of Collective Action around Urban Service Delivery in Bangalore and Chennai, for the Development Research Center on The Future State, based in the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex.


June to Oct 2005: Directed a mapping project on Collective Action related to Urban Service Delivery, in collaboration with the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, U.K., for the for the Development Research Center on The Future State, based in the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, supported by the Department for International Development (DFID), Government of U.K.


Jan to August2005: Research on urban water conflicts in Chennai city, under a short-term fellowship from SARAI, the New Media Initiative, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi.


July 2001 to Nov 2004: Dissertation research on neoliberal reforms in the urban water sector in Chennai.


March 1995 to 2001: Research Associate with Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology (BARA), University of Arizona.





Coelho, Karen, Lalitha Kamath and M.Vijayabaskar (eds.), (2013). Participolis: Consent and Contention in Urban Governance.  New Delhi: Routledge India.


Coelho, Karen and Nithya.V.Raman (2013): “From The Frying-Pan to the Floodplain: Negotiating Land, Water And Fire In Chennai’s Development”, in Anne Rademacher and K.Sivaramakrishnan (eds) Ecologies of Urbanism in India: Metropolitan Civility and Sustainability, Hong Kong University Press.


Coelho, Karen, T.Venkat and R.Chandrika (2012).  “The Spatial Reproduction of Urban Poverty: Labour and Livelihoods in a Slum Resettlement Colony” in Economic and Political Weekly (Review of Urban Affairs), Vol. XLVII, Nos 47 & 48, Dec 2012.


Coelho, Karen and Anant Maringanti.  (2012). “Urban Poverty in India: Tools, Treatment and Politics at the Neoliberal Turn” (Editorial) in Economic and Political Weekly (Review of Urban Affairs), Vol. XLVII, Nos 47 & 48, Dec 2012.


Coelho, Karen.  “Charting a Course through Embattled Terrain”, Book Review of Privatizing Water: Governance Failure and the World’s Urban Water Crisis, by Karen Bakker, Orient Blackswan 2011, in Economic and Political Weekly (Review of Urban Affairs), Vol XLVI, No. 50. Dec 10, 2011


Coelho, Karen, Lalitha Kamath, and M.Vijayabaskar (2011) “Infrastructures of Consent: Interrogating Citizen Participation Mandates in Indian Urban Governance” Institute of Development Studies (IDS) Working Paper 2011-03. Brighton, Sussex, UK


Coelho, Karen and Nithya Raman (2010). “Salvaging and Scapegoating: Slum Eviction on Chennai’s Waterways” in Economic and Political Weekly, XLV(21), May 22, 2010


Coelho, Karen. (2010).  “The Slow Road to the Private: A Case Study of Neoliberal Water Reforms in Chennai” in Water Governance in Motion: Towards Socially and Environmentally Sustainable Water Laws. Ed. P. Cullet, A. Gowlland-Gualtieri, R. Madhav & U. Ramanathan. Delhi: Cambridge University Press.


Coelho, Karen (2010). “Marginalized Histories and Managed Spaces: Recovering the Politics of the Mukkuvar Fishers of Kanyakumari”, A Book Review of Shorelines: Space and Rights in South India, by Ajantha Subramanian, in Samudra: Journal of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, No.56, July 2010


Coelho, Karen and T.Venkat. (2009). “The Politics of Civil Society: Neighborhood Associationism in Chennai.”  In Economic and Political Weekly, vol xliv, nos 26 & 27, June 27, 2009.


Coelho, Karen (2008). Book Review of Drowned and Dammed: Colonial Capitalism and Flood Control in Eastern India by Rohan D’Souza. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, India. 2006. In Conservation and Society 6(2): 2008


Coelho, Karen. 2006.  “Tapping In: Leaky Sovereignties and Engineered (Dis)Order in an Urban Water System.” In SARAI READER 06: Turbulence. Ed. Monica Narula et al. Delhi: Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. Pp.497-509.


Coelho, Karen. 2006.  “The Footprint of the Offshore Oil Industry on Community Institutions.” Chapter 5 in Research in Economic Anthropology, Volume 24, Markets and Market Liberalization: Ethnographic Reflections, edited by C. Werner and N. Dannhaeuser.  Elsevier Press, Jan 2006, pp.123-162.


Coelho, Karen. 2005. “The political economy of public sector water utilites reform” in Infochange Agenda (quarterly journal of the Centre for Communication and Development Studies, Pune, India) Issue 3, October 2005. 


Coelho, Karen. 2005. “Unstating 'the public': an ethnography of reform in an urban public sector utility in south India.” In Anthropology Upstream: The Ethnography of Aid Donors and Neoliberal Reform, edited by David Mosse & David  Lewis. London: Pluto Press, pp.171-195.


Coelho, Karen. “Infrastructure Investment As ‘Sustainable Development’: A Bangladesh Case Study.” In Human Resource System Challenge VII: Human Settlement Development, edited by Saskia Sassen and Peter J. Marcotullio, in Encyclopedia of Life Support Systems (EOLSS), Developed under the auspices of the UNESCO, EOLSS Publishers, Oxford, UK,   [http://www.eolss.net].


Jain, L.C. and Karen Coelho. 1996: In the Wake of Freedom: Tryst with Cooperatives, Concept Publishers, New Delhi.




Nithya Raman and Karen Coelho, “Ironies and incoherence in government policies”, New Indian Express, 3 June 2010.


Coelho, Karen “Water for Chennai – Limiteless Supply at Any Cost?”, The Hindu – Property Plus, Aug 19, 2006





CURRENT/ONGOING: Deliver two annual lecture series, one on History of Development Thought and another on Ethnographic and Qualitative Methods for Ph.D students at Madras Institute of Development Studies.


MARCH TO JUNE 2009:  Taught a graduate seminar entitled “Urban Politics in India” at the Jackson School of International Studies, Unviersity of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA. 


JUNE/JULY 2003: Taught a summer course “ANTH 310: Culture and the Individual” at the Department of Anthropology, University of Arizona.





JAN 2012. “Rethinking Informal Labour in Globalizing and Urbanizing Contexts in India”.  In collaboration with School of Habitat Studies, TISS, Mumbai, and Hyderabad Urban Lab.


JULY 2009: (In collaboration with MIDS colleague M.Vijayabaskar and independent scholar Lalitha Kamath) “Opening Up Or Ushering In? Interrogating discourses of Public Consultation and Citizen Participation in Urban Governance.” Pondicherry, 25-26 July, 2009. Sponsored by the Centre for The Future State at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), Sussex, UK, and Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH), New Delhi. 





“Pipe Dreams Of ‘Equitable Distribution’: Notes From A Study Of Chennai’s Water Utility”. Paper presented at the symposium on Water and Waste: The Future of Water and Sanitation in India Rutgers University, New Brunswick, USA. 7-9 Jan 2013


“Precarious Work and Persistent Poverty in a Resettlement Site: A Study of Kannagi Nagar, Chennai”.   Paper presented at the Colloquium Series on Urban Asia, organise by the York Centre For Asian Research, Toronto, Canada. Jan 31, 2013.


“Spatial and Temporal Dynamics in Domestic Work: A View from a Resettlement Colony in Chennai.” Paper presented at a workshop on Paid Domestic Work: Emerging Trajectories, Organisational and Regulatory Scenario, organised by the Center for Women’s Development Studies (CWDS), New Delhi) New Delhi 15-16 March 2013.


“On the charts, off the tracks: Disconnected development in Ambur town” (co-authored with M.Vijayabaskar). Presented at the workshop on Provincial Urbanization:

Examining the Role of Small and Medium Towns and Cities in India” organised by the School of Habitat Studies of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and SUBURBIN, New Delhi, 23-24 April 2013.


“From the Frying Pan to the Floodplain: Negotiating Land, Water and Fire in Chennai’s Development”  in the Geography Coffee Hour Lecture Series, organized by the Institute of Advanced Studies, and Quadrant Fellowship Program, University of Minnesota, USA.  Oct 14 2011.


“Forced Mobilities in the Lives and Livelihoods of the Urban Poor: Insights from Chennai.” (co-authored with T.Venkat and R.Chandrika). Conference on Migration, Urban Poverty and Informal Labour organized by the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISEC), Bangalore, March 2012.


“Municipal Water Reforms as Conduits of Neoliberal Governance in India”. Paper presented at the conference Understanding Global India: The South Asian Path of Development and its Possibilities, organized by Contemporary India Area Studies Dept.,(INDAS), Kyoto University

Kyoto, Japan, 29-30 Jan 2011.


“From the Frying Pan to the Floodplain: Land, Water And Fire As Strategic Resources In Neoliberal Urban Governance.” Paper presented at the Conference Urban Ecologies in Asia, organized by the Hongkong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Hongkong, in Hongkong, March 12-15, 2010


“Doles and Domestications: Refigurations of Informal Work in Globalizing Cities”: Presentation at the Symposium on Making Global Cities and the World Economic Crisis, Jan 4-8 2010, in Shenzhen, China, organized by the Department of Geography, University of Minnesota, and Peking University Shenzhen Graduate School.


“Opening Up or Ushering In: Interrogating discourses of Public Consultation and Citizen Participation in Urban Governance.” Introductory Presentation at the Workshop of the same name, Pondicherry, July 25-26, 2009.


“Civilizing Political Society? Notes on Collective Action of the Urban Poor in Chennai”  Keynote Lecture at the Conference Metropolis and Micropolitics: South Asia’s Sutured Cities, May 15-16, 2009, at the University of Washington.


 “Tapping In: Leaky Sovereignties and Engineered Disorder in a Municipal Water Utility”. Invited presentation for the National Symposium on “The State of India’s Water” organized by Partners in Urban Knowledge, Action and Research (PUKAR), Mumbai, 28 June 2009. 


“Walkers and Hawkers: Politics of Pavements in Chennai”. Invited lecture for the Fifth Annual PUKAR Lecture, Mumbai. Forthcoming: September 5, 2008.


“Neighborhood Associations and Social Accountability.” Presentation at the Annual Meetings of the Center for the Future State, IDS, Sussex. June 24-26, 2008.


“Emerging Civil Society Formations and Urban Renewal in South India.” Presentation at the Annual Meetings of the Society for Applied Anthropology, Tampa Florida, May 2007.


 “The Slow Road to the Private: Municipal Water Reforms in Chennai” Presented at the workshop on Water, Law and the Commons, organized by International Environmental Law Research Center, New Delhi, December 2006.


“The Leaky Sovereign: Tales of Engineered Order in an Urban Water Utility” presented at the panel “Secrecy and Sovereignty” at the Annual Meetings of the Society for Cultural Anthropology, Portland, Oregon, U.S.A., April 31-May 1 2004.


Invited keynote speaker at a workshop entitled “Problems and Processes of State Formation” co-sponsored by the Graduate School of International Development Studies, Roskilde University, Denmark, and the Institute of Development Studies, Helsinki University, Finland, on 23 and 24 January 2003 in Copenhagen, Denmark.


“Unstating the Public: An Ethnography of Reform in an Urban Public Sector Utility”. Presentation at the conference “Order and Disjuncture in Aid and Development” co-sponsored by the London School of Economics and the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, 26-28 September, 2003, London.





  • Member of the Editorial Advisory Committee for Review of Urban Affairs (RUA), EPW.

  • Guest-edited a special themed issue of the RUA, on Urban Poverty

  • Member of International Expert Panel for selection of research proposals for funding by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF). 2013.

  • Member of a 3-person Steering Committee for a project on Waste and the Informal Sector in Chennai.  Coordinated by Transparent Chennai, and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.





CURRENT (SINCE SEP 2006): Assistant Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, India, focusing on urban governance and reforms.  


JAN 2005 – AUG 2006: Independent scholar studying urban collective action and urban reforms in Chennai.


JUNE 1995 – AUG 1997:  Research Associate with the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology (BARA) at the University of Arizona, working on food security, gender, welfare reform, state policy.


JAN TO JULY 1994:  Consultant on Women and Local Government with Mahila Samakhya, (a quasi‑governmental agency organizing rural women around education and literacy in Karnataka).


JAN 1987 TO AUG 1991:       Program Associate in Asian Community Health Action Network, (ACHAN), a non‑governmental organization based in Chennai, networking among community health programs in South and South‑East Asia.





NOVEMBER 2004:  Ph.D in Sociocultural Anthropology (Minor in Applied Anthropology) at University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA.  Title of dissertation: Of Engineers, Rationalities and Rule: An Ethnography of Neoliberal Reform in An Urban Water Utility in South India


SEP 93: M. Phil in Development Studies from Institute of Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex, Brighton, UK. 





2005: Richard Carley Hunt Fellowship, awarded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, for 1 year, to work on preparing my dissertation manuscript for publication.


2005: Independent Fellowship with SARAI, The New Media Initiative, a programme of the Center for Study of Developing Societies, Delhi (6 months)


2004: Research Fellowship with the Foundation for Urban & Regional Studies University of Essex, U.K. (3 months)


2001-2002: Junior Fellowship (Dissertation Research) with the American Institute of Indian Studies (11 months)