The Work of Localization: Developing Community-Based Heat Action Plans in Hyderabad’s Informal Settlements | Humanities & Social Sciences

The Work of Localization: Developing Community-Based Heat Action Plans in Hyderabad’s Informal Settlements

Tuesday Seminar
Prof. Aalok Khandekar
Date and Time: 
Tue, 12/03/2024 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
03:30 PM to 05:00 PM
HSS Committee Room, 5th Floor, Main building


In recent years, Heat Action Plans (HAPs) have proliferated across cities, states, and regions in India in response to the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme heat events. However, as we have argued elsewhere (Khandekar et al. 2023), as standardized governance responses to managing extreme heat, HAPs in India are limited on three counts at least: first, they institutionalize a ‘disaster imaginary’ of heat, obscuring its chronicity and longer-term effects; second, they remain largely disconnected from the everyday contexts and geographies of their implementation; and third, they do not recognize the many ways in which various vulnerable groups and communities are already adapting to harsh temperatures. However, our ongoing research in informal urban settlements in Hyderabad suggests that community is a crucial locus of adaptation, facilitating, among other things, access to scarce but important resources such as water, exchange of dietary, sartorial, and other vernacular knowledges, and repair and maintenance networks through which cooling devices and other informal infrastructures are kept functional. In our research, therefore, we have started to conceptualize community-based HAPs as an alternative to their standardized, top-down, and templated counterparts. Developing community-based HAPs entails responding to a key paradox: while the community is an important locus of adaptation, extreme heat does not figure prominently as a community challenge among our interlocutors. It is discounted as something that individuals and households have no choice but to adapt to and not perceived as an issue around which communities can collectively mobilize. Localizing thermal governance thus entails a discursive reframing whereby adaptation to extreme heat can be legitimately claimed as a community right. It also entails the development of data and associated infrastructures whereby the causes and impacts of extreme heat at the community scale can be understood, demonstrated, and claimed. We suggest, therefore, that increasing attention to localizing thermal (and more generally, climate change) governance must necessarily also contend with the cultural, discursive, and infrastructural work necessary for such localization. In this paper, we describe one such effort aimed at establishing a basis for the development of community-based HAPs in Hyderabad.