Future Earth Coasts

FEC Dialogue: Meet the Fellows | Dr. Devendraraj Madhanagopal

“These conversations with fishermen and women etched into my mind both the hard realities faced by these communities and their resilience and strength, that is forged through shared adversity as well as mutual support.”

-Dr. Devendraraj Madhanagopal


Dr. Devendraraj Madhanagopal

School of Sustainability at XIM University (Odisha, India)

Trained as an environmental sociologist, the academic expertise and research interests of Devendraraj Madhanagopal cut across coastal governance, marine fishing communities, coastal livelihoods, environmental politics, social and political dimensions of climate change, environmental justice, and climate justice. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (Mumbai, India). Since 2019, he has been a faculty member associated with the School of Sustainability at XIM University (Odisha, India). He is the author of a book monograph with Routledge, UK, and he is the lead and corresponding editor of three edited books published by Springer Nature and Routledge. He, along with his co-author based in China, has recently signed a contract with Springer Nature for a co-authored book, and they are working on its publication for 2024. Devendraraj is the recipient of more than a dozen international travel grants or competitive fellowships. From August 2023 onwards, he serves as an Editorial Advisory Board Member to the SAGE Journal, “Alternatives: Global, Local, Political” [ISSN: 0304-3754; Online ISSN: 2163-3150]. He continues actively collaborating with Asian Scholars, particularly scholars based in China.


  1. What inspired you to delve into the social aspects of climate change and environmental justice, with a specific focus on the coastal communities of South India?

Devendraraj: Climate change is our everyday issue – mainly, as a researcher from South India and working in Eastern India, for me, climate variability and extreme weather risks are something that I feel almost every season and every year. However, as a PhD researcher, I also witnessed that these extreme weather risks are not so harmful to the resource-dependent communities who are already in a better position to cope. In contrast, the marginalized communities are the ones who have too many struggles to cope with even heavy rainfalls that exceed one or two days. Surprisingly, the resource-dependent communities, particularly industrial fishers, are also a part of the problem, and they have ended up in unsustainable large-scale fishing technologies. this resource depletion integrates with climate change and environmental justice issues in a complicated way. This issue is already a serious issue in coastal South India. Nevertheless, we have acute knowledge gaps in this field. Most of the growing research provides quantitative and technology-oriented solutions that have already failed multiple times. I decided to research these themes to address these knowledge gaps and make my contribution immediately to help the marginal communities of coromandel coast of South India.


  1. Could you share a pivotal moment or experience that solidified your dedication to researching coastal governance and the livelihoods of marine fishing communities?

Devendraraj: I had many such experiences in the field. Every day I met with the marginal fishermen and fisherwomen they used to share their livelihood struggles and how climate change and resource depletion had been hitting them at the worst.

Yet, despite all the difficulty, they also spoke warmly about their tightly knitted communities and customary governance systems, and how those ties and informal governance systems created support during crises. The way in which they drew strength from one another was evident; all the personal and livelihoods struggles of the coastal fishing communities of Coromandel Coast of Tamil Nadu never made them stand alone. These conversations with fishermen and women etched into my mind both the hard realities faced by these communities and their resilience and strength, that is forged through shared adversity as well as mutual support.


  1. What motivated you to become involved with Future Earth Coasts (FEC) and join the FEC Fellows Program? As an FEC Fellow, what do you hope to achieve or contribute to the broader scientific and stakeholder community?

Devendraraj: Future Earth Coasts (FEC) provides bright opportunities for young researchers to connect with like-minded researchers and eminent scholars worldwide. It also provides a platform for us to share our research with scholars from different regions and scientific backgrounds. Global challenges such as climate change, environmental justice, and climate justice cannot be addressed at a regional level, and they should be discussed and addressed at a global level. In particular, I have connected with bright and promising young researchers in China through FEC and I am pleased. FEC already possesses strong potential, and it continues to execute several scholarly events and attracts researchers for joint projects. In the future, will also act as a strong and powerful voice to discuss climate change, coastal governance, climate justice, and environmental justice in Asia, and it will play a pivotal role in integrating the researchers of Asia very soon in the coming years. I hope to engage with fellow researchers of FEC for collaborative research.


  1. Given the multifaceted nature of environmental politics and climate justice, what have been some of the key challenges you’ve encountered in your research?

Devendraraj: For me, discussing environmental politics in the field with various stakeholders is relatively easier than discussing climate justice. Environmental politics is a contested and often controversial theme; however, almost all the stakeholders are aware of the stakes they have in environmental resources in one way or another. People are ready to discuss the injustices they have faced due to ongoing environmental crises and how and why some elite groups at the local and state levels are benefiting from the turmoil and exploitation of environmental resources.

Making people understand and discuss the multifaceted challenges of climate justice was challenging to me. Coastal fishers are always aware of the changing environment and climate; however, they believe that these changing weather and climate patterns unequally hit them, and not everyone is equally getting affected by these changes.


  1. How do you navigate the interdisciplinary aspects of your work, particularly when integrating sociological insights with environmental science?

Devendraraj: Interdisciplinary social science research, particularly the integration of sociological insights with environmental science, is not something new in India; already substantial studies have been published. However, the integration of sociology with climate change and extreme weather events remains underexplored in India, Sri Lanka, and, to some extent, China. Bangladesh is an exception to this trend. This knowledge gaps highlight an opportunity to evaluate the relevance of sociological theories (particularly theories developed by Europe and North American scholars) in understanding and addressing environmental crises and climate change. This is because they developed these theories that can be applied in the context of European nations and North America. Based on my experience, I believe that many existing sociological theories are inadequate for examining these issues. For Asia, there is a pressing need to develop new terms, concepts, and theories tailored to regional and country-specific contexts for better understanding climate change and environmental crises.


  1. Throughout your career, what are some valuable lessons you’ve learned from studying the impacts of climate change on coastal communities?


  • To understand impacts of climate change on coastal communities, fishers’ voices and their experiences are essential and should not be overshadowed by climate models and advanced quantitative climate measurements.
  • Traditional knowledge (Indigenous Technical Knowledge Systems) of marine fishers can complement scientific support but can never replace science and technology.
  • Do not overestimate and as well as underestimate community participation, traditional knowledge systems, and local institutions of marine fishers in responding to climate change. They have potential and as well as strong limitations.


  1. Can you share any insights gained from your research that have the potential to inform policy decisions or social strategies in coastal regions?

Devendraraj: Through my research, I have provided several policy insights to the state on indigenous knowledge systems of fishermen and have also highlighted the limitations of IKS.


  1. Your research has highlighted the challenges faced by coastal communities’ post-disasters like the tsunami. Could you elaborate on the potential social and environmental consequences of such events for these regions?

Devendraraj: Since the tsunami, marine fishers along the Coromandel Coast of Tamil Nadu have begun to realize that their local knowledge systems are insufficient and often inaccurate. In this situation, fishermen need accurate weather reports as soon as possible, which most do not have. This information inaccessibility and inadequacy further brings potential social and environmental consequences to the fishers along these regions.

Since the tsunami, the intensity and frequency of fishing-related accidents have increased and there have been several incidents that the fishing vessels are capsized by high tides. Due to this, fishers are forced to endure a heavy financial loss and physical injuries. Usually, fishers do fish activities carefully in rough seasons to avoid such accidents. During normal times, they sometimes go fishing based on what they hear on social networks about what fish are available. Such accidents in normal seasons are partly due to fishers’ lack of alertness and mostly due to erratic weather. Since the tsunami, such trends have grown.


  1. What are some emerging research areas or unanswered questions in the field of environmental sociology that you find particularly intriguing or worthy of further exploration?

Devendraraj: I highlighted these emerging research areas and unanswered questions in my above-said book monograph. One such question is as follows: What role do climate change and coastal disasters play in escalating tensions between Tamil Nadu’s coastal regions and other coastal states in India, and between Tamil fishers and Sri Lankan fishers? The tensions between Sri Lankan fishers and those of Tamil Nadu have a long history. In the future, rising climate change and extreme climate risk events will likely bring more resource-related conflicts between nations, potentially increasing diplomatic strife between India and its neighbors. Similar tensions can be expected in many coastal countries of Asia with their neighboring nations.


  1. What role do you believe education plays in building a more environmentally conscious and just society, particularly in relation to coastal conservation and sustainable livelihoods?

Devendraraj: I firmly believe that education enhances the community resilience of fishers by imparting knowledge and sensitivity to them on sustainable fishing practices, coastal resource management, and disaster preparedness. Many state governments of India have already emphasized the role of education in enhancing community governance and community stewardship to protect coastal resources and fishers’ livelihoods. Some initiatives are at the planning stage and have yet to be executed. Undoubtedly, education should and will play a pivotal role in this. However, there are still unclear and contested views on how it can be imparted, at what levels it can be imparted, how financial resources can be allocated, and who should be the key stakeholder in implementing this.

These questions persist for a long time and we need to address this first.

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