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Masters student researches 'hydraulic citizenship' in India

14 August 2017

Eleanor Coe

Masters student Eleanor Coe – building on her undergraduate geography studies at QMUL – is currently completing the Global Development Futures MA. She has spent 5 weeks in India this summer for dissertation fieldwork. We caught up with her to find out how she's got on.

You travelled to India for fieldwork. What is your research project and what made you choose this particular topic?

I became interested in doing further field work in India following an undergraduate trip to Mumbai in 2015. I study Global Development Futures, and there is no better place to look at development on the ground than India! So as part of my masters dissertation, I spent 5 weeks in Varanasi, North India undertaking field work. 


Ellie with her host family in Varanasi, North India.

My project is looking at 'hydraulic citizenship', studying how the Indian governments new 'Clean India Campaign' for water sanitation manifests on the ground – in particular how it extends or contracts citizens rights to water. My research was broadly an ethnography within which I did a lot of participant observation and conducted 28 interviews with professionals and locals in Varanasi. 

Due to the expertise and experience of my supervisor, Dr Philippa Williams, I was lucky enough to stay with a local family during my trip. Overall it was an amazing experience that I would recommend to anyone looking at studying development, or doing field research abroad.

Do you think you’ll do more research in this field? What are your plans for after completing your degree?

I had such an amazing time in India, and my experience has definitely made me consider doing a PhD and spending more time in the field in Varanasi. I feel I've made the contacts and gained the background knowledge to make a PhD project surrounding water politics in India viable. But for now, I have a job at YouGov lined up starting this September as a researcher, although I am considering opportunities for further study after taking a break from academia. 


Locals, visitors and pilgrims bathe in the holy River Ganges at Dashashwamedh Ghat, Varanasi.

What are your top tips for students considering taking a masters course at QMUL Geography?

Global Development Futures MA, or even the Geography MA more broadly, has been flexible enough for me to really pursue my interests. With the support of many academics with expertise in such diverse areas, I was able to look at a variety of topics and issues in depth, whilst pursuing my interests in water infrastructure, water politics and development simultaneously. The School is homely and welcoming and provides the best possible environment to indulge your interests and broaden your horizons. Although I arranged the fieldwork myself, I couldn't have done it without the support and encouragement of staff in the School of Geography at QMUL. 

I would strongly recommend to anyone with an interest in working abroad to do an international research project. Although it may seem daunting, if you plan early enough in advance and draw on the support of your supervisors, the results and experiences you gain are enormous! Undertaking my research abroad not only allowed me to develop my research skills, but I also become more confident in traveling and living alone in foreign environments, and it has been a good point of discussion during job interviews too! 

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