Development Projects and Critical Theory of Environment Jyotsna Bapat Sage Publications New Delhi 2005
Why do communities resist developmental projects after they have begun? Why do so many of these resistance efforts have similar moral and ethical claims, despite the projects' different forms and locations? How should future environmental policies evolve? In this book under review, consultant Jyotsna Bapat ties-in these questions as she examines the impacts of development projects. She finds that planners often fail to consider tribal livelihoods and cultural imperatives in development projects, and that those meant to benefit most actually end up losing most from developmental projects.
All that is well known. The novelty of the book under review is that it promises to bring developmental projects under a new theory. This promise, however, remains unfulfilled. All that Bapat does is summarise two approaches, often used in development sociology: modernisation theories in their various avatars and dependency theories. She then writes, "There is need to creatively combine these two apparently disparate approaches." Weberian sociology, according to Bapat, fits this bill. Pray, what's so new about this?
Bapat is eminently qualified to undertake such studies. She has more than a decade-long experience as a consultant on impact assessment studies on social and environmental impacts of development projects. The book is the result of her tenure at the Department of Sociology, Macalester College, Minnesota, usa. B ut the author's credentials do not reflect on her work. The case studies do offer enormous scope for inter-disciplinary analyses, but the book disappoints us on that count. What emerges is a synoptic understanding of the various developmental issues studied by Bapat during her tenure as a consultant. She does acknowledge that the book is a result of 'retrospective analyses'. But, one fails to get any sense of her growth as a consultant.
In fact, the garb of explaining the cases through theory only makes the case studies a tad unapproachable. The book would also have done with tighter editing. Many a time there's repetition of ideas in the same paragraph. Bapat appears like a pedantic professor repeating ideas through different statements.
The author concludes with a plea for environmental sociology to be more responsive to the needs of its subjects. This is indeed a concern for most disciplines dealing with environmental issues, not just environmental sociology.
The book leaves this reviewer with a curiousity. Has Bapat's foray into academics made any difference to her as a practicing consultant? How differently is the author dealing with the issues she has highlighted in the book?
Ritika Shrimali is a research fellow at the Department of Geography, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi
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