My doctoral dissertation project is titled “Chasing flames: tensions and materialities in fire ecology research and praxis” and it explores the multifaceted cultural, material and environmental meaning-making that centres combustion as a key forensic entry point into understanding contemporary racial capitalism and colonialism. Through this project, I explore modes of meaning-making and valuation in the management of fires in both ecosystems and built environments. I conducted ethnographic research on various aspects of fire ecology and wildfire management in California. I then expanded the scope of my research to include investigation into the practices surrounding both ecosystem and built environment fires around the world to situate how themes of coloniality, valuation and race emerge in the context of fire management. Consequently, the responses to fires in urban environments started gaining salience in my work as I considered built environment fires such as ones in Grenfell Tower in London and the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris as well as the uses of fire in gender-based and caste violence in India. Through my analysis, I show that fire management regimes show a system of valuation based on colonial and capitalist logics predicated on race and that such logics are inscribed in contemporary fire ecology itself – and that such systems of valuation apply across the urban-rural and nature-culture divides. I use literature and methods from political ecology, history of science, environmental humanities, social anthropology, STS and cultural studies to contextualize the current state of popular and scholarly discourse on wildfires and built environment fires. Outside of my dissertation research, I also contribute to scholarship in colonization and Indigeneity, with a focus on the Americas and South Asia.
Keywords: Cultural, material and environmental meaning-making; fire ecology; wildfire management; colonization; Indigeneity; South Asia