Terah Sportel


About me

A human geographer broadly interested in the politics of socio-economic, and environmental change, with thematic interests in political ecology, environmental justice, development, and critical theory. In particular, my expertise lies in studies of globalization, especially in rural and developing locales, coupled with an extremely strong commitment to a key world region and its professional research networks. The particular foci of my research and publications to date are aspects of sustainable livelihoods, agricultural change, policy narratives and labour geography.

My Ph.D. dissertation focused in-depth upon the impacts of agricultural policy liberalization on India’s significant coconut industry, and generated considerable empirical data. During the course of my intensive fieldwork, I conducted a detailed ethnographic study (100+ in-depth interviews) and a quantitative survey (550+ household questionnaires) in two regions of the important State of Kerala, as selected for their contrasting geography, ecology, social histories, and agrarian property frameworks. An significant aspect of my research has involved assessing the role political narratives and advocacy coalitions play in determining agricultural policies (Sportel & Véron, 2016). Complementing this issue is my long-term commitment to understanding environmental change and Third World labour market dynamics in relation to evolving liberal policies. In a south Indian context, I explored the crisis of the famous ‘Kerala Development Model’, making critical contributions to labour geography debates by discussing unorganized labour, and forms of social control (Sportel, 2013). With ethnographic case studies comparing sub-regions of Kerala, I offered a textured account of how liberalization related to community development and agricultural/agrarian change.

Theoretically, I argued how multiple ecological and political economy processes in Kerala informed its regional trajectory over 25 years. My depiction of a complexly-determined situation – with links between many diverse societal practices – facilitated perceiving that absent from discourses on liberal policies and their impacts. I could thus offer an alternative to abstract or sectoral analyses by bringing in other activities behind the headlines. My holistic and historically-informed analysis was based on a novel approach to ideas about ‘social structures’ and ‘human agents’. Concretely, I showed longterm labour shortages and competition between Indian regions had a greater impact on development in Kerala than the liberalization induced by national policies.


2013  Ph.D. Department of Geography, University of Guelph, Canada. Dissertation: Labour, livelihoods & political narratives: A study of social structures, globalisation and development in the coconut economy of Kerala. Advisor: René Véron; Committee members: Craig Johnson and Alice Hovorka. Additional defense examiners: Peter Vandergeest (external), Evan Fraser (Graduate Faculty Member). http://hdl.handle.net/10214/7510 .

2002  M.Sc. Rural Extension Studies and International Development, University of Guelph, Canada. Thesis: Influence of socio-cultural norms and community perceptions on the sustainability of rural water supply and sanitation: A case study in Tamil Nadu, India (pdf). Advisor: D.J. Janakiram. Commitee members: Bala Hyma, and James Shute.

1999  B.E.S. Department of Geography, University of Waterloo, Canada. Specialisations: Local, Regional & International Development Systems; Biophysical Systems. Thesis: A review and assessment of gender analysis techniques within the context of resource management (pdf).