Sudhir Chella Rajan


Room No.: HSB 331C
Phone : +91 (44) 2257 4525
Email :



Academic Background:

  • D.Env. Environmental Science and Engineering Program (cross-disciplinary doctorate), UCLA, 1994.
  • M.S. Meteorology, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, 1985.
  • B.Tech. Aeronautical Engineering, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, 1983.

Research Interests:

  • Automobility
  • Political theory and the environment
  • Grand corruption
  • Climate policy
  • Sustainable development

Professional Summary:

Sudhir Chella Rajan teaches at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT Madras. He was formerly Head of the Department (2011-2014) and was Coordinator of the Indo-German Centre for Sustainability (2010-2016), where he is currently Area Coordinator for Land-Use. He obtained an inter-disciplinary doctorate in Environmental Science and Engineering from the University of California Los Angeles and has worked in progressively senior positions in government, research consultancies, NGOs and academia. His interests are primarily at the interface of political theory and the environment; in particular, on the new challenges that enter politics within democratic societies in the face of composite social and environmental encounters.

Dr Rajan has worked on emergent policy dilemmas in automobile pollution regulation in California, the politics of power sector reform in developing countries, conflicts in relation to energy access and climate change policy, the patterns of social change needed in transport in the United States for fair climate policy, ethical approaches to addressing climate change and sea level rise, new interpretations of the resource curse in resource-rich developing countries, changes to the periurban landscape in South India and the shifting meanings of corruption in environmental and everyday discourse. He has authored or co-authored over 30 peer-reviewed publications, over 30 technical reports, and 2 books. He is currently writing a manuscript on the ‘big’ history of corruption in India under contract with Harvard University Press.

Research Interests:

  • In very broad terms, my intellectual concerns lie at the interface of the environment and political theory. What normative claims do problems such as pollution, climate change, and loss of biodiversity place on human societies, and how adequate or not are prevalent institutional arrangements to respond to them? What does it mean to describe these in emergent socio-technical formations influenced by power dynamics among other factors? How, for instance, does the state identify legitimate and effective means of environmental governance, and what strategies does it use to navigate among competing concerns? I am also interested in examining situations, particularly in the context of environmental crises, where the state runs into trouble at the edges of liberal democratic theory, and in exploring whether these boundary concerns in turn shift the terms of political discourse. These issues I am currently exploring in the long-historical context of India, whose present-day developmental ambitions and fragmented polity further confound the frame.
  • In the past, I have used liberal political philosophy as a lens to investigate the state’s commitment to sustaining automobility in Western democracies, in the face of severe local pollution concerns. I am currently engaged in a broader attempt to theorise automobility as a global phenomenon and its emerging political and cultural dimensions. I have also worked on the relationship between climate change and migration, cosmopolitan politics, and institutions and corruption.
  • I do a fair amount of scenario-based analysis on transport, energy and climate change, primarily as a means to provide my conceptual interests a strong grounding in specific policy questions. In this regard, my team and I have built climate and energy scenarios for India, one of which have a strong normative focus on reducing carbon emissions while raising incomes and livelihoods for the bottom quintile. Current collaborative research interests focus on the periurban (with its connotations of bypasses and hinterland). Other work of this nature includes developing sustainable transport policy both in Indian cities and in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where I have been working in collaboration with respective UNDP offices. Lastly, along with Sujatha Byravan, I have been working on sea level rise as a possible driver of political and ethical shifts in the discourse on climate change.

Teaching Interests:

  • Corruption and Development
  • Democracy Theory and Practice
  • Development Planning and Project Appraisal
  • Environmental and Resource Economics
  • Foundations of Social and Political Thought
  • State and Development
  • Technology and Sustainable Development
  • Urbanization and Development

Professional Experience:

  • 2007-present: Professor, Humanities and Social Sciences, IIT Madras
  • 2000-2007: Senior Fellow, Tellus Institute, Boston, MA, USA
  • 1999-2000: Consultant, UNDP, New York
  • 1995-1999: Director (Operations and Asia), International Energy Initiative, Bangalore, India
  • 1989-1994: Air Resources Engineering Associate, California Air Resources Board, El Monte, CA, USA
  • 1988: Air Quality Scientist, ENSR, Camarillo, CA, USA

Representative Publications:

  • S.C. Rajan (2017) “Practising Theory in the Anthropocene.” Discussion in Economic & Political Weekly 52, no. 14: 72-74
  • S.C. Rajan (2015): “Who are the people of the world?” in Gupta, S. and S. Padmanabhan (eds), Cosmopolitanism: Context, Inquiry and Critique, Routledge, London.
  • S.C. Rajan (2010) Parental Sacrifice as Atonement for Future Climate Change, in Michael Maniates and John Meyer (eds.) The Environmental Politics of Sacrifice, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2010
  • S. Byravan and S.C. Rajan (2010): “The Ethical Implications of Sea-level Rise Due to Climate Change,” Ethics and International Affairs, 24.2, Fall Issue.
  • S.C. Rajan (2008) Meeting the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Challenge: The Case for Biome Stewardship Councils. In Janet Ranganathan et al., (Eds.) Policies for Sustainable Governance of Global Ecosystem Services, Edward Elgar, UK.
  • Mayer Hillman, Tina Fawcett and S.C.Rajan (2007) The Suicidal Planet: How to Prevent Global Climate Catastrophe, St. Martin’s Press, New York.
  • S.C. Rajan (2007): “Automobility, liberalism and the ethics of driving,” Environmental Ethics Spring 2007, 77-90.
  • S.C. Rajan (2006): “Climate Change Dilemma: Technology, Social Change, or Both? An Examination of Long-Term Transport Policy Choices in the United States,” Energy Policy 34: 664–679.
  • S.C. Rajan (2006) Automobility and the Liberal Disposition. In Steffen Boehm et al. (Eds.), Against Automobility: Social Scientific Analyses of a Global Phenomenon, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford
  • S.C. Rajan (1996) The Enigma of Automobility: Democratic Politics and Pollution Control, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pitt Series on Policy and Institutional Studies;
  • M. FitzSimmons, J. Glaser, R. Montemor, S. Pincetl and S.C. Rajan (1994) “Environmentalism and the liberal state,” in Martin O’Connor: Is Capitalism Sustainable? Guilford Books.

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