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Bhaskar Vira, MA MPhil PhD

Bhaskar Vira, MA MPhil PhD

Director, University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute

Reader in the Political Economy of Environment and Development, and Fellow of Fitzwilliam College

Environmental and development economics; political economy, particularly the study of institutions and institutional change; public policy in the developing world, especially India; state-society interactions in development.



  • 1993-1994: College Lecturer in Economics, St John's College, University of Cambridge
  • 1994-1997: WMI Research Fellow in Environment and Development, Oxford Centre for the Environment, Ethics and Society, Mansfield College, University of Oxford
  • 1998-present: Department of Geography & Fitzwilliam College, University of Cambridge.


  • BA (Hons) Economics, St Stephen's College, University of Delhi
  • BA (Hons) Economics, St John's College, University of Cambridge (MA Cantab.)
  • MPhil Economics, University of Cambridge
  • PhD University of Cambridge


My research interests centre on the changing political economy of development, especially in India; and on political ecology, focusing on forests, wildlife and landuse change and the social and political context for biodiversity conservation. My work on incentives for natural resource use and management deals with trade-offs and discourses relating to the concept of ecosystem services, and how this overlaps with poverty and human well-being, as well as values for biodiversity conservation. Research into the policy process in this sphere has included work as a Coordinating Lead Author with the Responses Working Group of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the UK National Ecosystem Assessment. My research on the political economy of development in India focuses on the distributional consequences of changes in the Indian urban and rural economy since the 1990s, with a particular interest in labour relations, as well as alternative strategies for land-use and the management of resources.

I am closely involved with the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, and the Global Food Security strategic research initiative at the University of Cambridge, and also work with the Centre for Science and Policy and the Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership. I am a member of the Cambridge Forum for Sustainability and the Environment. I am an Associate Editor of Environmental Conservation, Editorial Board Member of Global Environmental Change, and Advisory Board Member for Conservation and Society.

My research links to two thematic groups in the Department: Natures, Cultures, Knowledges; and Contested Political Economies. I am a member of the Political Ecology research group.

Natures, Cultures, Knowledges

Under this theme, my research focuses on the political economy of natural resources, ecosystem services and development. I have interests in the political economy of resource use, and trade-offs associated with decisions about natural resources, environment and development - specifically, who wins, and who loses from alternative choices? I study the processes of decision making, as well as the discourses and performances that surround environmental policy and governance. I also focus on the ways in which different types of knowledge are reflected in policy making, and how knowledge claims are negotiated and contested in this context.

Current and recent projects

Current graduate students

Contested Political Economies

My research in this area examines the political economy of development, and justice and fairness in the context of economic change. I am interested in institutional change and the impacts of development, with a particular focus on contemporary India. I study the justices and injustices that result from economic change, and am especially concerned with their impacts on marginalised groups. I have explored these ideas through projects on work and labour in the new service economy in India; as well as research which explores the distributional implications of changes in landuse and land ownership, and changing modes of resource governance. In this context, recent work has included a focus on debates surrounding the political economy of food security, and the roles of state, private and collective action in securing sustainable food futures.

Current and recent projects

Current graduate students


Selected publications:

  • Sandbrook, C., Adams, W. M., Buscher, B., & Vira, B. (2013). Social Research and Biodiversity Conservation. Conservation Biology, doi:10.1111/cobi.12141
  • Vira, B. (2013). One billion hungry: can we feed the world?. International Affairs, 89(3), 750-752.
  • Muradian, R., Vira, B., et al. (2013). Payments for Ecosystem Services and the Fatal Attraction of Win-Win Solutions. Conservation Letters. 6(4), 274-279.
  • Sandbrook, C., Fisher, J. and Vira B. (2013, accepted, in press). What do Conservationists Think about Markets?, Geoforum, doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2013.09.009.
  • Vira, B., Adams, W M, Agarwal, C., Badiger, S., Hope, R A, Krishnaswamy, J. and Kumar, C. (2012). Negotiating Trade-offs: choices about ecosystem services for poverty alleviation. Economic and Political Weekly, 47(9), 67-75.
  • Strassburg, B.B.N., Vira, B., Mahanty, S., Mansourian, S. and Martin, A. (2012). Social and Economic Considerations relevant to REDD+., in John A. Parrotta et al (eds.), Understanding Relationships between Biodiversity, Carbon, Forests and People: The Key to Achieving REDD+ Objectives. A Global Assessment Report. Prepared by the Global Forest Expert Panel on Biodiversity, Forest Management, and REDD+. IUFRO World Series Volume 31. Vienna. pp.83-114.
  • Vira, B. and Kontoleon, A. (2012) Dependence of the Poor on Biodiversity: Which Poor, What Biodiversity?, in D. Roe et al (eds.) Biodiversity Conservation and Poverty Alleviation: Exploring the Evidence for a Link, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, Chichester, UK.
  • Munroe, R., Vira, B., et al (2012). Review of the evidence base for ecosystem based approaches to climate change. Environmental Evidence, 1: 13.
  • Vira, B., & James, A. (2012). Building Cross-Sector Careers in India's New Service Economy? Tracking Former Call Centre Agents in the National Capital Region. Development and Change, 43(2), 449-479.
  • James, A., & Vira, B. (2012). Labour geographies of India's new service economy. Journal of Economic Geography. doi:10.1093/jeg/lbs008
  • Vira, B., & James, A. (2011). Researching hybrid 'economic'/'development' geographies in practice: Methodological reflections from a collaborative project on India's new service economy. Progress in Human Geography, 35(5), 627-651.
  • Vira, B., with Elliott, L.C., Fortnam, M. and Wilks, S. (2011). Making Decisions: Response Options. In: The UK National Ecosystem Assessment Technical Report. UNEP-WCMC, Cambridge. Chapter 27, pp.1309-1451.
  • Williams, P., Vira, B., & Chopra, D. (2011). Marginality, Agency and Power: Experiencing the State in Contemporary India. Pacific Affairs, 84(1), 7-23.
  • Chopra, D., Vira, B., & Williams, P. J. (2011). Politics of citizenship: experiencing state–society relations from the margins. Contemporary South Asia, 19(3), 243-247.
  • Sandbrook, C., Scales, I. R., Vira, B., & Adams, W. M. (2011). Value plurality among conservation professionals.. Conservation Biology, 25(2), 285-294.
  • Rands, M. R. W., Vira, B. et al.(2010). Biodiversity conservation: challenges beyond 2010.. Science, 329(5997), 1298-1303.
  • James, A., & Vira, B. (2010). 'Unionising' the new spaces of the new economy? Alternative labour organising in India's IT Enabled Services Business Process Outsourcing industry. Geoforum, 41(3), 364-376.
  • Simpson, R. D. and Vira, B. (2010). Assessing Intervention Strategies. In N. Ash, H. Blanco, C. Brown, K. Garcia, T. Henrichs, N. Lucas, C. Raudsepp-Hearne, R David Simpson, R. Scholes, T. Tomich, B. Vira and M. Zurek (Eds.), Ecosystems and Human Well-Being: A Manual for Assessment Practitioners (pp. 221-253).
  • Vira, B. and Kontoleon, A. (2010) "Dependence of the poor on biodiversity: which poor, what biodiversity?", A State of Knowledge Review, London: International Institute for Environment and Development. (54 pp). Published in Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) Technical Series No 55, Linking Biodiversity Conservation and Poverty Alleviation: A State of Knowledge Review, pp.13-28.
  • Vira, B. and W. M. Adams (2009) "Ecosystem Services and Conservation Strategy: Beware the Silver Bullet", Conservation Letters 2(4), 158-62.
  • Vira, B. (2008) "Identity and Politics in Contemporary South Asia", Contemporary South Asia, 16(4), 389-95.


  • Geographical Tripos (Undergraduate level)
  • MPhil in Conservation Leadership
  • MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies

Completed doctoral research students

Name Title of thesis/research area Results
Arshiya Bose From Ficus to Filter: The Political Ecology of Market Incentives for Biodiversity Conservation in Coffee landscapes in India Awarded Ph.D.
Rohini Chaturvedi Forest Federalism: Centre-States' Negotiations and the Politics of Environment and Development in India Awarded Ph.D.
Tatiana Thieme Trash and Toilets: The 'Hustle' and the Informal Economy in Mathare, Kenya Awarded Ph.D.
Heather Bedi Plumridge Contesting land, uneven development, and privilege: social movement resistance to Special Economic Zones in Goa, India Awarded Ph.D.
Sushil Saigal Life and Afterlife of a Development Project: Origin, Evolution, and Outcomes of the Tree Growers' Cooperatives Project, India Awarded Ph.D.
Kim Beazley Oustee Powerlessness, Pragmatism and Potential: Conservation-Induced Displacement in Central India Awarded Ph.D.
Deepta Chopra National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, India: towards an understanding of policy spaces Awarded Ph.D.
Philippa Williams 'Being Muslim' : everyday lived realities in urban north India Awarded Ph.D.
Chetan Kumar The political ecology of deforestation in Meghalaya, India : role of 'meso-level' institutions Awarded Ph.D.
Aditi Mukherjee Political economy of groundwater markets in West Bengal : evolution, extent and impacts Awarded Ph.D.
Smrithi Talwar Empowerment in an authoritarian context? Community forestry in Myanmar (Burma) as a case study Awarded Ph.D.
Jane Dyson Faces of the forest : children's work in Uttaranchal, India Awarded Ph.D.
Murat Arsel Risking development or development risks? : probing the environmental dilemmas of Turkish modernisation Awarded Ph.D.
Jo Woodman Between bureaucrats and beneficiaries: the implementation of ecodevelopement in Pench tiger reserves, India Awarded Ph.D.
Kathryn Tovey Institutional responses to the water needs of the urban poor: a study of collective action in Delhi slums, India Awarded Ph.D.
Richard Perkins Technology and environmental leapfrogging: three case-studies from India Awarded Ph.D.
Kaveri Gill Of poverty and markets: the political economy of informal waste recovery and plastic recycling in Delhi Awarded Ph.D.