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Maan Barua, DPhil

University Lecturer in Human Geography

Maan’s research focuses on the economies, ontologies and politics of the living and material world. It develops new conversations between critical political economy and posthumanism through three arenas of inquiry: urban ecologies, lively capital and biodiversity conservation.

Maan’s current work primarily focuses on urban ecologies, leading a major ERC Horizon 2020 Starting Grant (2018-2023) on which he is the Principal Investigator. Prior to joining Cambridge, Maan was a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the School of Geography and Environment at the University of Oxford, where he also read for a DPhil and an MSc. Prospective MPhil, PhD or Postdoctoral applicants are encouraged to contact Maan by email to discuss possible applications.



Maan’s research focuses on the following themes concerned with the economies, ontologies and politics of the living and material world:

I: Urban Ecologies

How might we reformulate what is a city if we start with the premise that their inhabitants are not solely humans? This research theme, developed through an ERC Horizon 2020 Starting Grant (‘Urban Ecologies‘; 2018-2023), aims to rethink urban theory and develop new analytics and methods for conceptualizing urbanicity.

Empirical research, currently underway in London (UK), New Delhi and Guwahati (India), develops novel ethnographic and ethological methods to specify how the urban might be reconceptualized as an ecological formation.

The Urban Ecologies team, comprising of Postdoctoral Researchers and PhD scholars, examines the material and ecological lives of other-than-humans through: the cultivated (urban livestock, poultry), the feral (street dogs, parakeets), and the wild (urban macaques and foxes). As ecologies of comparison, tracked in ordinary and spectacular cities, in those of the Global North and South, they provide insights for developing a number of conceptual themes:


This thematic area develops new ways to engage with the material and ecological flows of cities, drawing on critical lively political economies that go beyond new materialisms. Ongoing work on this theme also includes a film collaboration on urban atmospheres and the vertical city (Airborne) with Shaunak Sen in New Delhi.


In what ways does infrastructure furnish conditions for urban life? And how is other-than-human life itself being recast as infrastructure? The Urban Ecologies project examines these questions through a number of different avenues, from infrastructural repurposing in informal settlements to human-animal collaborations in the urban margins.


This theme critically examines the ways in which intensities of cities are modulated and their role in generating urban form. We examine metabolic lives at a number of scales, from flows to other-than-human bodies. A central arena of engagement is to attend to the infrastructures of animal food production and the veterinary geographies underpinning their care. Other research includes the relations between chemicals, waste and animal bodies in metropolitan spaces.


In what ways does the regulation of other-than-human life have bearings upon urban governance? This strand of research re-envisions urban governance to be a hybrid of biopolitical and vernacular practices, that are not always rooted in models of biopolitics associated with European modernity. Furthermore, this work brings biopower into conversation with questions of the subsumption of nature by capital, reworking biopolitics as simultaneously a political economic practice.

II: Lively Capital

This theme pertains to developing a lively political economy, re-envisioning the economic to be a set of ecological practices. Engaging historical-material traditions in political economy/ecology and subjecting some of its concepts to postcolonial and posthumanist critique, it explores how vital processes and nonhuman agency has bearings upon capitalist accumulation. Lively political economies are developed through concepts of ecological, affective and metabolic labour to highlight the role of animal bodies in configuring productivity and social reproduction. It then turns to rethinking commodity geographies and circuits of capital, especially when other-than-human potentials configuring their ambit are taken into account. This work develops concepts of lively capital, nonhuman labour and encounter value as alternatives to overtly economistic and cultural categories previously deployed in the production of nature thesis.

III: Practices and Politics Biodiversity Conservation

Maan is interested in the epistemologies, practices and politics of biodiversity conservation, particularly in postcolonial contexts. A central thematic to this work pertains to questions of life, labour and ecology in the Plantationocene, drawing upon intensive, more-than-human ethnographic work on elephants in and around tea plantations, in northeast India. This work critically interrogated a number of concepts deployed in conservation, including corridors, charismatics and cartographies of reserve design. Wider interests and ongoing work on this theme include geographies and ontologies of extinction, invasive species, reconciliation ecology, and knowledge practices in conservation, particularly in situations where different epistemologies come into conflict.


  • 2018 – 2023: Principal Investigator, European Research Council (ERC) Horizon 2020 Framework Programme Starting Grant for research project entitled ‘Urban Ecologies: governing nonhuman life in global cities’ (uEcologies). €1,441,361.
  • 2017 – 2018: Principal Investigator, Wellcome Trust Seed Award in Humanities and Social Sciences for research project entitled ‘Urban animals, human livelihoods and health in the global south: a trans-species approach’. £49,845.
  • 2015 – 2017: Principal Investigator, British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship for research project entitled ‘Political animals: rethinking Indian modernity’. £ 299,232.
  • 2014 [Declined]: Leverhulme Early Career Postdoctoral Fellowship for research project entitled ‘Political animals: rethinking Indian modernity’. £ 299,000.
  • 2014 – 2016: Principal Investigator, University of Oxford John Fell Fund for research project exploring the geographies of Lively Capital. £ 6,700.
  • 2008 – 2011: Principal Investigator, Harold Hygham Wingate Foundation grant for research project on The Political Ecology of Human-elephant Interactions in India. £ 15,000.

Prospective students

I welcome enquiries from prospective PhD students and MPhil in Geography and MPhil in Anthropocene students, with a strong social science background, on any of these themes: urban ecologies, lively capital, politics of biodiversity conservation. Please look at my current research interests and my current graduate students, then get in touch with me with your ideas about research topics that I may be able to supervise. A short proposal would be helpful for having a conversation.


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Public engagement


  • Geography Tripos Part II: Political Geographies of Postcolonialism
  • Geography Tripos Part II: Environmental Knowledges and the Politics of Expertise
  • Geography Tripos Part II: Political Ecology of the Global South

External activities

  • Adjunct Faculty, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru, India (2014-Present)
  • Member, IUCN SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group (2017-Present)