What’s in a name? Troubling dichotomies underpinning energy access efforts in the Global South

Authors: Deepti Chatti*, Yale University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Qualitative Methods, Development
Keywords: energy access, cookstoves, India, modernity, development
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Virginia C, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Efforts to expand ‘clean’ cooking energy access in the global South can provide substantial public health and societal benefits to half the world’s population that is currently underserved, as well as climate benefits to the global community. ‘Clean’ cooking development projects consist of helping low-income families move away from burning solid biomass fuels in locally made technologies called ‘traditional’ stoves, and towards ‘improved’ stoves that purportedly burn fuels better, or use ‘clean’ burning fuels like liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and electricity. However, underpinning many of these development projects is a dichotomous view of the world that draws sharp distinctions between ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ technologies and ways of cooking, entrenching orientalist tropes about people in the global South that have long been problematized within critical scholarship.
Based on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in India, I show that ‘modernity’ and ‘tradition’ co-exist in rural Indian kitchens – technologically, and socially, leading to new stove technologies being used in an additive rather than substitutive manner. I demonstrate that the labels of ‘traditional’ and ‘improved’ do not map onto the variety of local cooking technologies being used. I analyze the global networks of ideas and materials embedded in the so-called ‘traditional’ stoves, problematizing a development gaze that assumes rural households in India are stuck in the past, untouched by global forces. This paper explodes the two artificial dichotomies of space and time that are embedded in clean cooking development efforts– ‘local’/’global’, and ‘traditional’/’modern’.

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