Camelia Dewan

Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Academic interests

Politics of Knowledge Production, environmental anthropology and political ecology, the anthropology of development, South Asia, gender, the anthropology of climate change, food studies, agriculture, aquaculture, rural livelihoods and human-nonhuman relations.


Camelia is an environmental anthropologist focusing on the anthropology of development. She is currently a postdoctoral fellow on the Norwegian Research Council-funded project (Dis)Assembling the Life Cycle of Containerships where she examines the final stage of containerships through shipbreaking.

Prior to joining SAI, Camelia lectured in Environmental Anthropology and Political Ecology as well as Development Studies at Stockholm University. She obtained her PhD in Social Anthropology and Environment from the University of London in 2017. Her doctoral work consisted of intercollegiate and interdisciplinary collaboration between the Department of Geography, Environment and Development Studies (Birkbeck College) and the Department of Social Anthropology (SOAS). Her thesis was awarded the Royal Anthropological Institute's Sutasoma Award. 

Climate change is one of the key challenges of our time and large amounts of development aid are allocated towards adaptation in the Global South. Yet, to what extent do such projects address local needs and concerns? Dr Dewan's book Misreading the Bengal Delta: Climate Change, Development and Livelihoods in Coastal Bangladesh (2021, Seattle: University of Washington Press) decolonizes development narratives of Bangladesh as a ‘climate change victim’. It combines long-term ethnographic fieldwork and environmental history to show that the same modernising interventions that have produced severe environmental effects since colonial times are now repackaged as climate adaptation solutions. For example, rather than mitigating against rising sea levels, permanent embankments (seawalls) silt up important waterways causing damaging drainage-related floods. Similarly, other ‘adaptation’ projects like saline aquaculture and high-yield agriculture threaten soil fertility, biodiversity, and livelihoods. Engaging with multiple perspectives, from Bangladeshi development professionals to rural farmers and landless women, Camelia Dewan demonstrates that Bangladesh’s current environmental crisis goes beyond global warming, extending to coastal vulnerabilities that are entwined with underemployment, debt, and lack of universal public healthcare.

This book informs broader global issues by analysing how development actors’ use of climate change as a buzzword to attract donor funding fails to address the actual needs of the communities they intend to help, ultimately exacerbating climatic risks and structural inequalities.

Current Project

Bangladesh exhibits one of the largest and most competitive shipbreaking industries in the world and her project seeks to deconstruct the current discourses surrounding the shipbreaking and recycling industries where Bangladeshi workers are cast as exploited victims. The study ethnographically explores the everyday lives of workers in the end-cycle of containerships - from those breaking the ships to those employed in re-rolling mills - to gain a greater understanding of how they negotiate opportunities and constraints in a context of structural precarity and un(der)employment. It engages with wider discussions of increasingly precarious forms of labour in the current economic system and examines how global capitalist interests in shipbreaking interact/co-exist with local modes of economic production and labour (recycling, national steel for construction) and look at the political, economic and social relations embedded in these interactions. This includes identifying the relations, tensions and commonalities between migrant shipbreaking workers, yard owners, re-rolling mills and local residents. Departing from the latest environmental ethnographies on ‘biosocial becomings’ (Ingold and Pálsson 2013), the study also explores how the precarious livelihoods of residents and labourers are entangled with the environment and the multiple species contained within its waters and soils that may have been affected by shipbreaking (fishing, cultivation, health). 


Dewan, Camelia (2021) Misreading the Bengal Delta: Climate Change, Development and Livelihoods in Coastal BangladeshUniversity of Washington Press: Seattle, USA. ISBN: 9780295749617. Available for pre-order and as open-access e-book.

Dewan, Camelia (2021) ‘Embanking the Sundarbans: The Obfuscating Discourse of Climate Change’ in P. Sillitoe (ed) THE ANTHROPOSCENE OF WEATHER AND CLIMATE: Ethnographic Contributions to the Climate Change Debate, Berghahn Books: London, UK.

Dewan, Camelia. 2021. ‘Durniti or Durbolata: Self-Policing, Social Relations and Regulative Weakness in the Everyday Lives of Bangladeshi Government Officials’. In Masks of Authoritarianism: Hegemony, Power and Public Life in Bangladesh, edited by Arild Engelsen Ruud and Mubashar Hasan, 155–72. London: Palgrave Macmillan UK.

Dewan, Camelia. 2021. "Caring for Dying Canals." Theorizing the Contemporary, Fieldsights, January 26.

Dewan, Camelia (2021) "Covid-19, Nordic trust and collective denial: Sweden and Norway compared" Corona Times Blog.

Dewan, Camelia (2020) "'Climate Change as a Spice': Brokering Environmental Knowledge in Bangladesh's development industry". Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology. 

Dewan, Camelia (2020). "Living with toxic development: Shipbreaking in the industrializing zone of Sitakunda, Bangladesh." Anthropology Today.  ISSN 0268-540X.  6(4) . doi: 10.1111/1467-8322.12617

Dewan, Camelia (2019) ‘Impure Foods: Entanglements of Soil, Food and Human Health in Bangladesh’ Gastronomica 19(1).

Dewan, Camelia, Aditi Mukherji, and Marie-Charlotte Buisson (2015) ‘Evolution of Water Management in Coastal Bangladesh: From Temporary Earthen Embankments to Depoliticized Community-Managed Polders’. Water International 40 (3): 401–16.

Dewan, Camelia, Marie-Charlotte Buisson, and Aditi Mukherji (2014) ‘The Imposition of Participation? The Case of Participatory Water Management in Coastal Bangladesh’ in Humphreys, E., T.P. Tuong, M-C. Buisson, I. Pkinskis and M. Phillips (eds) Revitalizing the Ganges Coastal Zone: Turning Science into Policy and Practices: Conference Proceedings. Colombo, Sri Lanka: CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food.

Dewan, Camelia, Marie-Charlotte Buisson, and Aditi Mukherji (2014) ‘The Imposition of Participation? The Case of Participatory Water Management in Coastal Bangladesh’. Water Alternatives 7 (2): 342–66.

Anger, J, Kiwanga, F and C. Dewan (2013) ‘Mid-term Review of the Institutional Strengthening Support to the Association of Local Authorities of Tanzania’, Sida Decentralised Evaluation 2013:4, Sida: Stockholm.

Tropp H. and C. Dewan (2012) “Changing International Perceptions of Public–Private Partnerships in Water Services” in Gunawansa and Bhullar (eds) Water Governance: An Evaluation of Alternative Architectures, Edward Elgar Publishing Limited: Cheltenham, UK.


  • The Royal Anthropological Institute’s Sutasoma award


Tags: Environmental Anthropology, Development, Climate change, Food, rural transformations, maritime, South Asia, Bangladesh, Political ecology


Environmental Anthropology, Development, climate change, food, rural transformations, maritime, South Asia, Bangladesh, Political ecology, 

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Published Nov. 3, 2018 9:30 AM - Last modified Apr. 13, 2022 2:06 PM