Camelia Dewan

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Dr Camelia Dewan is an environmental anthropologist focusing on the anthropology of development. She holds a PhD in Social Anthropology and Environment from the University of London (SOAS/Birkbeck) and is an Associate Senior Lecturer in Cultural Anthropology examining the socio-environmental effects of shipbreaking in Bangladesh. Dr Dewan is the author of Misreading the Bengal Delta: Climate Change, Development and Livelihoods in Coastal Bangladesh (University of Washington Press, 2021).


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Dr Camelia Dewan is born and raised in Stockholm, but studied in the UK (University of Edinburgh, LSE) and 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. After her PhD, she was lecurer in Environmental Anthropology and Political Ecology as well as Development Studies at Stockholm University. Between 2018-2023 she was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Oslo.


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Research interests

Thematic: Politics of Knowledge Production, environmental anthropology and political ecology, the anthropology of development, gender, the anthropology of climate change, food studies, agriculture, aquaculture, rural livelihoods and human-nonhuman relations. Covid-19 and pandemic responses.

Regional: South Asia, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan. Scandinavia, Norway, Sweden

Climate Change and Misreading the Bengal Delta

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.

Shipbreaking and Living with Toxic Development

Bangladesh exhibits one of the largest and most competitive shipbreaking industries in the world and her current project deconstructs 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, C. 2021. Misreading the Bengal Delta: Climate Change, Development and Livelihoods in Coastal Bangladesh. Culture, Place and Nature-series edited by K. Sivaramakrishnan. Seattle: University of Washington Press. Open Access.

Journal Articles:

Dewan, C., & Sibilia, E. A. (2023). "Introduction to Special Issue: Scaled Ethnographies of Toxic Flows" Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space,

Dewan, C., & Sibilia, E. A. (2023). "Global containments and local leakages: Structural violence and the toxic flows of shipbreaking." Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space,

Dewan, Camelia. 2023. ‘Toxic Residues in Fluid Commons: More-than-Economic Dispossession and Shipbreaking in Coastal Bangladesh’. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology. Special Issue: Fluid Dispossessions.

Dewan, Camelia, and Knut G. Nustad. 2023. ‘Introduction to Special Issue. Fluid Dispossessions: Contested Waters in Capitalist Natures’. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology.

Dewan, C. 2023. "Climate refugees or labour migrants? Climate reductive translations of women’s migration from coastal Bangladesh". Journal of Peasant Studies. Open Access.

Schober, E. Dewan, C and Markkula J. 2022. ‘Life-Cycle of Container Ships: Chains of Value and Labour in Maritime Logistics’. Oxford Research Encyclopaedia of Anthropology.

Dewan, C. 2020 ‘“Climate Change as a Spice”: Brokering Environmental Knowledge in Bangladesh’s Development Industry’. Ethnos: Journal of Anthropology, 87(3): 538-559. Open Access.

Peer-reviewed Book Chapters: Dewan, Camelia. 2023. ‘Climate Refugees or Labour Migrants? Climate Reductive Translations of Women’s Migration from Coastal Bangladesh’. In Climate Change and Critical Agrarian Studies, edited by Ian Scoones, Saturnino M. Borras Jr., Amita Baviskar, Marc Edelman, Nancy Lee Peluso, and Wendy Wolford, 1st ed., 447–68. London: Routledge.

Dewan, C. 2022. ‘Durniti or Durbolata: Social Relations, Hierarchies and Self-Policing in the Everyday Lives of Bangladeshi Government Officials’ pp. 155-172. In Masks of Authoritarianism: Hegemony, Power and Public Life in Bangladesh, Hasan and Ruud (eds), London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Dewan, C. 2021 ‘Embanking the Sundarbans: The Obfuscating Discourse of Climate Change’: 294-321. In The Anthroposcene of Weather & Climate: Ethnographic Contributions to the Climate Change Debate, Sillitoe, P (ed). Oxford; Berghahn Books via the Royal Anthropological Institute. Open Access.


Recent publications

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Camelia Dewan