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Department of Geography


Bhaskar Vira, MA MPhil PhD, FAcSS

Professor of Political Economy and Fellow of Fitzwilliam College

Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, University of Cambridge

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 focuses on the political economy of environment and development. I am concerned, in particular, with the often-hidden costs of environmental and developmental processes, and the need for scholarship to draw attention to the distributional consequences of public policy choices. My work focuses on the ways in which large-scale economic, societal and environmental transformations are governed, the values that frame how human societies engage with each other and with nature, and the networks of formal and informal institutions that are intertwined in everyday decision making across a variety of spatial and temporal scales.

I have led large scale intellectual and policy-oriented projects that involve interdisciplinary conversations across the natural and social sciences. Trained as an economist, but with a portfolio of research that now engages across the critical social sciences and their interface with the biological and environmental natural sciences, I inhabit the interdisciplinary intellectual ‘borderlands’ of a number of disciplines (Human Geography, Development Studies, Institutional Economics, Environmental Studies and Conservation), while being firmly rooted in the political economy tradition.

I was Founding Director of the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, one of the University’s Interdisciplinary Research Centres. I am closely involved with the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, and the Global Food Security Interdisciplinary Research Centre at the University of Cambridge, and also work with the Centre for Science and Policy , Cambridge Zero, and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

I have contributed to international science-policy panels, including the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the UK National Ecosystem Assessment, and IUFRO-led Global Forest Expert Panels. In 2018, I was honoured with the Royal Geographical Society’s Busk Medal, in recognition of my contributions to interdisciplinary research on environment and development.

My research links to across the Department’s thematic research groups, with a focus on Vital Geographies. My projects also relate to work in Infrastructural Geographies and the Geographies of Knowledge. I am a member of the Political Ecology research group, which meets regularly to discuss research in progress, to hear visiting speakers, or to discuss published papers.

Current and recent projects

Completed doctoral research students

Name Title of thesis/research area Results
Saba Sharma Territories of belonging: Citizenship and everyday practices of the state in Bodoland Awarded Ph.D.
Karen Wong Perez The Natural Environment and local perceptions of poverty, well-being and justice in a Mexican fishing community. Gaps and bridges between local perceptions and national metrics Awarded Ph.D.
Lana Whittaker Realising the right to food in India: Insights from the Midday Meal Scheme in Rajasthan Awarded Ph.D.
Elizabeth (Libby) Blanchard California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (2006- 2016) and the Politics of Knowledge in Climate Change Mitigation Decision Making Awarded Ph.D.
Shashi Singh The political economy of land acquisition in India Awarded Ph.D.
Girija Godbole Relationships between women and land in rural society in western India Awarded Ph.D.
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.


[Publications will load automatically from the University’s publications database…]


  • Geographical Tripos (Undergraduate level)
  • MPhil in Conservation Leadership


University governance

International Science-Policy Panels