Dr. Kirit Patel has been Assistant Professor of International Development Studies at MSC since 2007.
What do you love about your work here?
The student body at MSC, in my view, is different than many other places I have been. They are global citizens. Their perspective is not narrowly defined by the rhetoric of nationalism. They are concerned with the process of marginalization of people, concerned with inequality, environmental degradation and social justice, not just in Canada, but around the world. The kind of questions they ask, the kind of sensitivity they express, it's quite moving. I see their enthusiasm very much as a hope for the future. Teaching them is a gift.
What are you teaching right now that you're most excited about?
I'm teaching a second-year course called Participatory Local Development, and it's one of my favourite courses to teach. I often teach this course in the evening and it energizes me. The course is focused on local development, approaches, methods, tools, and skills to empower local people to shape the development process. We look at other sides of the issue too. We look at the cost of participation, and consider local power dynamics and how our interventions might give legitimacy to those already in power. It's a great course, I really enjoy teaching it.
What are you researching and writing?
Almost two years ago, I got a SSHRC grant to study India's newly established environmental courts. As a development scholar, I was curious about the impact of these courts on the poor. We're looking at cases specifically related to water, like rivers, lakes, and wetlands. These are usually found in rural areas, and often the livelihoods of the poorest of the poor depend on these common property resources. Cases before the environmental courts are often dominated by the interests of governments, powerful industry, and the upper middle classes. The question is, whose environmentalism takes precedence? Last summer, I had three students working with me on this project. At the moment I'm compiling the data sets these students collected, and we're writing a paper for a conference in Oslo, Norway on political ecology.
What are you reading for enjoyment?
I enjoy reading biographies in Gujarati, which is the language spoken in Gujarat State in India, where I'm from. I read about a lot of people who aren't well known here —leaders, activists, and politicians from South Asia. In English, I find the obituary pages in the Globe and Mail very interesting. Every Saturday they carry the story of a person who has recently died. They're usually a person of significance, and I learn about the history of this place, the people who have shaped this place.
Where or how do students give you hope?
For environmental problems, in my view, the solution lies at a global level. Geopolitical boundaries are good in terms of creating a commitment to the land, but too much of that rhetoric has a cost. We inherit the planet collectively as humans and we have to think at that level in order to make an intervention. I feel hopeful and confident when I talk to the students. As our future leaders, they're global citizens who act with global perspective. They prioritize fair trade, and second-hand for the environment and to encourage businesses to make ethical choices. That gives me hope.
What do you most long for in your work?
My work is focused at the grassroots level. I teach, I research, I write, and I learn, but the most rewarding experience, the thing I hope for most, is that the situation on the ground changes. I have been fortunate, that many projects I've been involved in have led to change in local communities. That gives me a lot of satisfaction.
Do you have any interesting projects underway in the broader community or church?
I'm involved in a new project researching a dry fish value chain in South Asia. In South Asia, the poor take the 'waste' from the fisheries industry, fish that are too small for example, and dry it for an inexpensive protein source. The dry fish gets sold in informal markets, like street food vendors, but it doesn't stop there. The dry fish actually gets traded throughout South Asian countries. My core interest is food security—how the fish is traded and accessed by people. This project will hopefully try to understand the value chain, and see if we can add value to it. We want to help the poor get the most benefit out of it by improving food safety, nutrition, and transportation, for example.
What saying or motto inspires you?
I get a lot of inspiration from Gandhi's work. I come from the same place that Gandhi comes from, so I know him not simply from books. I've met many people who worked with Gandhi and their commitment to his principles is not less than Gandhi himself. He said that "An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching." He always emphasized practice as compared to theory or philosophy. Of course he was also a great thinker, but when it came to his preference, he leaned toward practice. This has stayed with me throughout my academic career and it drives me. I enjoy reading theory but my work is focused at the grassroots level.