“Combustion: A Feminist Perspective on Cookstove Improvement Campaigns in India”

By Meena Khandelwal on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020

Meena Khandelwal on Tuesday, March 3rd, 2020

Meena Khandelwal is best known for her pioneering research on Hindu celibacy and monastic life that puts gender at the center. Her book Women in Ochre Robes (SUNY Press 2004) focuses on the everyday lives of women initiated into sannyasa-one of several traditions of Hindu renunciation. More recently, Khandelwal has turned her attention to a collaboration with applied scientists sparked by a chance conversation about a solar cooker project. A colleague in engineering took a group of students to visit a village in Rajasthan, India; they learned that women and girls were trekking long hours to find and haul firewood that was once available just outside their homes-simply to cook a meal. Availability of a solar cooker, they thought, would not only address the problem of deforestation but would also ease women’s workload and put more girls in school. The engineers’ consideration of perspectives from cultural anthropology and gender studies led to an awareness that the cook-stove problem is not only technological, but also environmental, cultural and political. The project now involves a multi-disciplinary group of colleagues conducting research on the complex nexus of forests, energy, gender relations, health, consumption and culture.Thus far, three publications have resulted from this collaboration. 

Khandelwal published an essay on veganism, vegetarianism and beef-eating titled “Cooking with Firewood: Deep Meaning and Environmental Materialities in a Globalized World” in Mapping Feminist Anthropology in the Twenty-First Century ed. by Lewin and Silverstein (2016). She has also published two co-authored essays. One is “Why Have Cook-stove Initiatives in India Failed?”(World Development 2017).  “The Humble Cookstove” is included in a special edition of LIMN on Little Development Devices / Humanitarian Goods (2017) edited by Stephen J. Collier, Jamie Cross, Peter Redfield, and Alice Street.

Khandelwal was recently awarded a Fulbright-Hays Group Project Award to take a group of 12 faculty and students to Rajasthan for one months in Winter 2016-2017 to learn about the story of cook-stove interventions.

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