Having worked on water for more than a decade, I am currently researching the relationship between disastrous environmental change, knowledge formation, and technologies of water management in flood-prone North Bihar. I am trained primarily in the social sciences but with a keen interest in the natural sciences (water management, fluvial morphology, hydrogeology, biogeochemistry of water) and the humanities (socio-linguistics and epistemology), and my work aims to contribute to the interdisciplinary dialogue on themes of disasters, risk and adaptation, floods and landscape engineering, toxic drinking water, environmental knowledge, but also environmental conflicts and social movements, resource access and water-treatment technologies, sanitation, languages and practices of nature, amphibious livelihoods, the politics of knowledge formation, environmental justice. I am also interested in reflective ethnographic methodologies and in applying research to the practice of social development.
Apart from a few projects in Sub-Saharan Africa (2000-2005), since 2001 I have been primarily working in India, where I have conducted extensive fieldwork in several different states (Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Jharkhand, Rajasthan, New Delhi, Orissa), coordinated rural NGOs in North Bihar on water projects (with Megh Pyne Abhiyan), and served as a water-expert for the United Nations (UNDP, WFP, UNEP, multilateral development). I have been in Bihar when the area was hit by the two worst floods in living memory (2007-2008), and for ethnographic fieldwork in 2012-2015.
I hold a B.Sc.+ M.Sc. in Diplomacy and International Relations (magna cum laude and honorable mention, University of Turin, Italy), M.A. in Social Anthropology for Development (SOAS, University of London), M.Phil. in Anthropology (Yale University), M.Phil. in Forestry and Environmental Studies (Yale University), and a join Ph.D. in Anthropology and Forestry and Environmental Studies (2018, Yale University).
My research has been supported by the Fulbright Commission, Social Science Research Council, the Wenner Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the American Institute for Indian Studies, the MacMillan Center, the Tropical Research Institute, the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies, Agrarian Studies, the Yale South Asian Studies Council, and several smaller endowments.
Most recently, I am the recipient of 2016 Royal Anthropological Institute’s Curl Prize for the best essay relating to the result or analysis of anthropological work, of the 2017 Eric Wolf Prize for the best paper advancing the field of Political Ecology by the Political Ecological Society, and the Josephine deKarman fellowship for high academic standards based on a national competition among graduate students of any discipline at universities in the U.S.A (all open rank competitions).
I am now the Taylor H. Stanford Fellow in the departments of STS and Anthropology at Cornell University. I love teaching: in 2017 I co-instructed with Prof. Sivaramakrishnan the undergraduate seminar "Environmental Justice in Modern South Asia" at Yale University, in 2018 I taught the senior seminar "Water Societies: Environment, Technology and History ". I cannot wait to teach "How Do We Know Nature? Language, Knowledge and the Environment" and "Water Disasters: Pollution, Floods, and other Wet Crises" at Cornell in 2019, both engaged research-based courses.
© Luisa Cortesi