Karen Coelho

Associate Professor

Madras Institute of Development Studies 79, II Main Road, Gandhinagar, Adyar, Chennai 600020
Telephone: 0091-44-24412589 24411574 24420204 24419771; Extn: 318; Fax: 0091 - 44 - 24910872
E-mail: karen.coelho@gmail.com / karenc@mids.ac.in
Residence: S 45 35th Cross Street, Besantnagar, Chennai 600 090, INDIA. Tel: + 91 44 24465461


  • NOV 2004: Ph.D in Sociocultural Anthropology from 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. 8
  • JUNE 1986: MA Social Work from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, India.


  • CURRENT: Associate Professor at Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, India.
  • Sep 2006 to Sep 2016: Assistant Professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, India.
  • 1995 to 1997: Research Associate with the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology (BARA) at the University of Arizona.
  • 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).
  • 1987 to 1990: Program Associate at Asian Community Health Action Network, Chennai, India.

Areas of Research

  • Urban Transformations in India
  • Urban Reforms
  • Informal Labour
  • Urban Ecologies and Urban Civil Society.

Awards and fellowships

  • 2005: Richard Carley Hunt Fellowship, awarded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, to prepare 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 with the American Institute of Indian Studies (11 months)


  • Member of the International Scientific Advisory Panel for the project Revitalising Informal Settlements and their Environments (RISE), Monash University, Melbourne.
  • CURRENT: Member of the Editorial Advisory Committee for Review of Urban Affairs (RUA), EPW.
  • 2015-2018: Member of International Expert Panel of the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) for selection of research proposals for funding (r4d program).
  • 2017-2018: Member of the Steering Committee for the Resilient Chennai Project (under the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities Program).
  • 2013: Member of the Steering Committee of the project Waste and the Informal Sector in Chennai, coordinated by Transparent Chennai, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.


  • Coelho, Karen, Lalitha Kamath and M.Vijayabaskar (eds.), (2013). Participolis: Consent and Contention in Neoliberal Urban India. New Delhi: Routledge India.
  • Jain, L.C. and Karen Coelho. 1996: In the Wake of Freedom: Tryst with Cooperatives, Concept Publishers, New Delhi.

Journal Articles, Book Chapters and Working Papers

  • Forthcoming (2019); co-authored with Darshini Mahadevia and Glyn Williams: “Outsiders in the Periphery: Studies of the Peripheralisation of Low Income Housing in Two Indian Cities” in International Journal of Housing Policy, Special Issue on Housing Policy and Governance in India: Orthodoxies, Challenges and Power.
  • Forthcoming (2019): “Water’s Edge Urbanisms Along the Buckingham Canal in Chennai”, in Padawangi, Rita, Paul Rabé and Adrian Perkasa (eds): River Cities: Water Space in Urban Development and History, University of Amsterdam Press.
  • 2018: “Reading History and Power in Urban Landscapes: The Lens of Urban Political Ecology” in Ecology, Economy and Society—the INSEE Journal; 1 (2): 19 – 30, July 2018
  • 2017: "The Canal and the City: An Urban Ecological Lens on Chennai's Growth" in India International Center Quarterly, Special Issue on The Contemporary Urban Conundrum, Winter 2016-Spring 2017
  • 2017: Co-authored with Garima Jain, Chandi Singh and Teja Malladi: “Long-term implications of humanitarian responses: the case of Chennai” Working Paper10840IIED, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), London, Nov 2017
  • 2016: "Tenements, Ghettos, or Neighbourhoods? Outcomes of Slum Clearance Interventions in Chennai" in Review of Development and Change, Vol XXI, No.2..
  • 2016: "Occupational Domestication in a Post-Resettlement Context: An Analysis of Women's Work in Kannagi Nagar." In Women Workers in Urban India, edited by Saraswati Raju and Santhosh Jatrana, Cambridge University Press.
  • 2014: Co-authored with M.Vijayabaskar: "On the Charts, Off the Tracks: Disconnected Development in Ambur Town, Tamil Nadu", in Economic and Political Weekly, Review of Urban Affairs., vol xlix no 22, May 31, 2014.
  • 2014: "Resettlement Projects as Poverty Traps", Infochange Agenda, (quarterly journal of the Centre for Communication and Development Studies, Pune, India) Issue on Urban Poverty, October 2014
  • 2013: Co-authored with T.Venkat and R.Chandrika: "Houses, Homes and Domestic Work: A Study of Paid Domestic Workers from a Resettlement Colony in Chennai" in Economic and Political Weekly (Review of Women's Studies) vol xlviiI no 43, October 26, 2013.
  • 2013: Co-authored with Lalitha Kamath and M.Vijayabaskar: "Opening Up or Ushering In? Citizen Participation as Mandate and Practice in Urban Governance" in Participolis: Consent and Contention in Neoliberal Urban India. New Delhi: Routledge India.
  • 2013: Co-authored with Nithya.V.Raman: "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.
  • 2012: Co-authored with T.Venkat and R.Chandrika: "The Spatial Reproduction of Urban Poverty: Labour and Livelihoods in a Slum Resettlement Colony" inEconomic and Political Weekly (Review of Urban Affairs), Vol. XLVII, Nos 47 & 48, Dec 2012.
  • 2012: Co-authored with Anant Maringanti: "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.
  • 2011: Co-authored with Lalitha Kamath, and M.Vijayabaskar: "Infrastructures of Consent: Interrogating Citizen Participation Mandates in Indian Urban Governance" Institute of Development Studies (IDS) Working Paper 2011-03. Brighton, Sussex, UK
  • 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.
  • 2010: Co-authored with Nithya Raman: "Salvaging and Scapegoating: Slum Eviction on Chennai's Waterways" in Economic and Political Weekly, XLV(21), May 22, 2010
  • 2009: Co-authored with 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.
  • 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.
  • 2006. "The Footprint of the Offshore Oil Industry on Community Institutions." 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Book Reviews

  • 2017: Review of In the Public's Interest: Evictions, Citizenship, and Inequality in Contemporary Delhi by Gautam Bhan, in Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography, Jan 17, 2017
  • 2016: Review of The illegal City: Space, law and gender in a Delhi squatter settlement by Ayona Datta, Geographica Helvetica, May 2016
  • 2011: "Charting a Course through Embattld 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.
  • 2008: 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

Research Projects

  • Current (2017-2019): Co-Principle Investigator (with Prof. Amita Bhide, TISS Mumbai, and Dr.Partha Mukhopadyay, CPR New Delhi) "Boundary Spanning and Intermediation for Urban Regeneration: Comparative Case Studies from Three Indian Cities" funded by the Indian Council for Social Science Research (ICSSR).
  • 2019: Co-Principal Investigator (with Prof.A.Srivatsan CEPT, Ahedababad): “Dynamics and Determinants of Affordable Housing: A Case Study of Chennai” funded by the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission.
  • 2018: Co-Principal Investigator (with Dr. Glyn Williams and Dr. Paula Meth, University of Sheffield, UK, Prof. Darshini Mahadevia, CEPT and Sarah Charlton, University of Wittwaterstand, Cape Town): “Mobilities from the Periphery” funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund, UK.
  • 2017-2018: Principal Investigator: Baseline Study of the Impacts of Resettlement in Gudapakkam and Perumbakkam, Chennai, funded by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board, Govt of Tamil Nadu, and Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR).
  • 2016: Consultant to Indian Institute of Human settlements (IIHS) on the project: "Long-term Implications of Humanitarian Responses to Disaster: The Case of Chennai".
  • 2014-16: Principal Investigator: "Settlement and Struggle on Chennai's Buckingham Canal: Working Class Histories of the City", sponsored by the Indian Institute of Human Settlements (IIHS) Bangalore under the Ford Foundation-funded project "Reframing Urban Inclusion".
  • 2013-14: Principal Investigator: "Best Practices in Slum Improvement at International, National (Indian) and Local (Chennai) Levels", commissioned by the Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission, Government of Tamil Nadu.
  • 2012-2013: Co-Principal Investigator (with Prof.M.Vijayabaskar): "Economic Planning and Governance in Small and Medium Towns, with a focus on Ambur town and its leather industry", in partnership with the School of Habitat Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), funded by Ford Foundation.
  • 2011-12: Principal Investigator: "Impacts of Slum Resettlement on Livelihoods and Labour of the Urban Poor, focusing on Kannagi Nagar, Chennai."
  • 2010 to 2011: Co- Principal Investigator (with Prof.M.Vijayabaskar): "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: "Collective Action around Urban Service Delivery in Bangalore and Chennai" sponsored by the Development Research Center on The Future State, Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, and the Department for International Development (DFID), UK.

Articles in Newspapers and Magazines

  • “Chennai Drought: How the Water Distribution System Reflects Residents’ Social Power; Bias Against the Poor” in Scroll, July 23, 2019.
  • “The Rot of Rehabilitation”, The Hindu, Op-ed page, June 5 2018.
  • "A tale of two schemes", The Hindu, Op-ed page, Dec 20 2016
  • "Placing the Poor in the Flood Path: Post-Disaster Slum Resettlement in Chennai". In Vantage, online edition of The Caravan, 4 Jan 2016.
  • "Ironies and incoherence in government policies" (with N. Raman) New Indian Express, 3 June 2010.
  • "Water for Chennai Limitless Supply at Any Cost?", The Hindu Property Plus, Aug 19, 2006


  • Session on Urban Ethnography at the International Summer School organized by International Journal of Urban and Regiona Research (IJURR), New Delhi, Sep 7-17, 2019.
  • Annual course on Urban Studies as guest faculty at the Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, 2014-2018
  • Annual courses on History of Development Thought and Ethnographic and Qualitative Methods for Ph.D scholars at Madras Institute of Development Studies, 2011-2017
  • Graduate seminar Urban Politics in India as guest faculty at the Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA in 2009.
  • Semester-long course on Development Perspectives as guest faculty at Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Chennai in 2013.
  • Field Study Advisor for the Chennai Study Trip planned by i) School of Government and Public Policy, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2013-14 and ii) by Sciences Po in 2013.

Selected Lectures / Talks / Papers Presented

  • “Urban Waterlines: Socionatural Productions of Indifference”: invited keynote lecture sponsored by the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (IJURR) at the RC21 Conference, New Delhi, 18-21 Sep 2019.
  • “The Canal and the City: Water’s Edge Urbanisms in Chennai” invited lecture for the South Asia Colloquium Series of the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change (ICGC), University of Minnesota, May 1, 2019.
  • "The Canal and the City: Water's Edge Urbanisms in Chennai" at the Urban Knowledge Network Asia (UKNA) symposium "River Cities: Water Space in Urban Development and History", organized by Universitas Airlangga and the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Surabaya, Indonesia, 11-12 Dec 2017.
  • "New Geographies of Vulnerability in Globalizing Cities: The Case of Floods and Resettlement in Chennai". Invited lecture at the School of Urban Planning, McGill University, Montreal, CA. Sep 27, 2017.
  • "Water's Edge Urbanisms: Entrenchment Projects in Intra-Urban Peripheries" at: Urban Arc: The City in Transition, Research Conference of Indian Institute for Human Settlements , Bangalore, Jan 18-20 2017.
  • "In the Shadow of the Metropolis: Disconnects in Peri-Urban Governance" at the Conference on Peri-Urban Development: Concept, Emerging Ideas and Notions of Sustainability, Indo-German Center for Sustainability IIGCS) and Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CStep), IIT Chennai, Jan 29, 2017
  • "Urbanisms of Entrenchment: Perspectives from the Banks of a Failed Canal," at the National Seminar on "Framing India Through Perspectives from Elsewhere" Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, 27-29 July 2015.
  • "Reflections on Urban Ecologies: Governance of Land, Water and Informal Settlements in Chennai", Invited lecture for the Visiting Speakers Seminar Series, Azim Premji University, Bangalore, Jan 20, 2015
  • "Municipal Water Reforms: A Critical Review of the Chennai Case", Lecture given at the IGCS Winter School 2015: "Sustainable Water Management in Urban Areas", organised by the Indo-German Center for Sustainability, and Indian Institute of Technology, Chennai, March 2015
  • "Uncertainty in Working Class Settlement and Resettlement" Paper presented at the conference "Urban Futures in the "Asian Century: Uncertainty, Speculation, Experimentation", organised by the London School of Economics and Institute of Economic Growth, New Delhi, 13 Nov, 2014
  • "Pipe Dreams Of Equitable Distribution: Notes From A Study Of Chennai's Water Utility" 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.
  • "On the charts, off the tracks: Disconnected development in Ambur town" 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" at Geography Lecture Series, organized by the Institute of Advanced Studies, and Quadrant Fellowship Program, University of Minnesota, USA. Oct 14 2011.
  • "Municipal Water Reforms as Conduits of Neoliberal Governance in India". at Understanding Global India: The South Asian Path of Development and its Possibilities, organized by Contemporary India Area Studies Dept.,(INDAS), Kyoto University, Japan, 29-30 Jan 2011.
  • "Doles and Domestications: Refigurations of Informal Work in Globalizing Cities": 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.
  • "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.

Conferences/workshops organized

  • DEC 2017: Refresher Course: "Social and Gender Dimensions of Urban River Restoration: Lessons from Asian Cities" co-organised with Maartje Van Eerd and Banashree Bannerjee, IHS, Erasmus University, The Netherlands, 11-22 Dec, 2017, at MIDS, Chennai, India.
  • JULY 2015: Interdisciplinary Research Methodology co-organised with colleagues at MIDS. At Rajiv Gandhi Research Institute for Youth Development, Sriperumbudur.
  • 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: "Opening Up or Ushering In? Interrogating discourses of Public Consultation and Citizen Participation in Urban Governance." Pondicherry, 25-26 July, 2009. (In collaboration M.Vijayabaskar and Lalitha Kamath, sponsored by the Centre for The Future State at the Institute for Development Studies (IDS), Sussex, and Centre de Sciences Humaines (CSH), New Delhi.

Available on request

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Phone: 0091-44-24412589 24411574 24420204 24419771. Fax: 0091-44-24910872. E-mail: admin@mids.ac.in

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