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Bhaskar Vira, MA MPhil PhD

Bhaskar Vira, MA MPhil PhD

Head of Department, Professor of Political Economy and Fellow, and Fellow of Fitzwilliam College

Director, University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute

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 environment and development, especially in South Asia; with a particular interest in the political ecology of forests, water, food, wildlife and landuse change and the social and political context for biodiversity conservation.

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 apply a critical political economy perspective to contemporary debates in relation to ecosystem services and natural capital, and the values of nature for human wellbeing.

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 am 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 strategic research initiative at the University of Cambridge, and also work with the Centre for Science and Policy and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership.

My research links to two thematic groups in the Department: Natures, Cultures, Knowledges; and Societies, Markets, States. 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
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.


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


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