Institute of Economic and Cultural Geography Research Research projects
Environmental change and resource use in South India. Discourses and gender perspectives in rural Kerala

Environmental change and resource use in South India. Discourses and gender perspectives in rural Kerala

Led by:  PD Dr. Matthias Schmidt (Universität Augsburg)
Team:  Korinna Klasing, M.A.
Year:  2018
Funding:  Graduiertenakademie of LUH
Duration:  2014 - 2018
Is Finished:  yes


KeralaThe research project explores rural gender perspectives and resource use in South India under changing environmental conditions. Due to its high population density and natural peculiarities, the coastal region of the state of Kerala, in particular, is currently facing major challenges. Stronger tidal ranges, seasonal shift of the monsoon, extreme heat and changes in precipitation influence local population’s realities, involving floods, land erosion and drought, amongst others. Furthermore, effects of intensified backwaters tourism and diversification of employment opportunities, an accelerated consumption change and politically initiated modernization measures pose versatile challenges to the people along the backwaters in terms of settlement areas, resource use, socio-cultural and economic organization. Measures of the Indian government to mitigate the risks associated with these changes have been announced for the state of Kerala. Due to lack of funds, they are, however, initially limited to regions of greater economic interest, such as areas with intensive rice cultivation.

The study area of the project focuses on an island in Ashtamudi Lake, Kollam District, in the southern reaches of the backwaters. This region in the delta of Kallada River is characterized by channels and low lying areas, making it extremely vulnerable to the mentioned environmental changes.

In this context, the project aims to analyze in which way the concepts of "environment" and "resources" are constructed by the population of the Keralan coastal region and how local (climate-related) changes in their environment are being perceived. Based on qualitative interviews, household surveys, and participatory observation, the project answers questions regarding responses to threats of local livelihoods, and adaptation strategies that exist apart from government standards. Due to a high educational level in Kerala, it can be assumed that the local population receives and processes media information and discourses on environmental and climate changes in an intensive way, besides their local or traditional knowledge. In this regard, the study of gender perspectives is of particular interest for the research project.

By analyzing local, rural human-environment interactions under changing environmental conditions, the research project provides a sophisticated view on development prospects in the global south. This helps policy makers and institutions of development cooperation to integrate the realities of local populations into their work processes in an optimal way - not only in South India.

Presentations to Scientific Audiences

  • Klasing, K.: Cross-cultural und cross-language research im ländlichen Kerala, Südindien: Kritische Reflexion zur Methodik einer Feldforschung. Humangeographisches Kolloquium der Universität Augsburg. 19.07.2017, Augsburg.
  • Klasing, K.: Always someone else to blame? Socio-ecological perspectives on changing livelihoods in coastal Kerala, South India. 7th Nordic Geographers Meeting (NGM). Stockholm, Sweden, 18 to 21 June 2017.