Dr. Priti Narayan joined the faculty at UBC Geography this year as an Assistant Professor.
She currently teaches GEOG 352 Urbanization in the Global South and GEOG 122 Geography, Modernity and Globalization.
Having recently completed a postdoctoral project at Princeton University, UBC marks Dr. Narayan’s first move to the west coast, after gaining her PhD and masters at Rutgers and Columbia universities.
What’s your background, and what made you choose geography?
My background is a little all over the place (but it all makes sense to me!). I went from studying media and journalism, becoming a reporter, to a Masters degree in Sociology, a stint in policy research, advocacy and activism, back to grad school again — this time for a PhD in Geography. Geography is a capacious discipline for a multidisciplinary person like me. It also seemed like the right place in which to think theoretically about activist struggles. I have definitely found my professional home here.
Can you talk a little bit about your work and research interests?
My interests lie in processes of urban development and politics. In my primary research project, I examine how urban poor residents stake and retain claims to land and basic services in the central city in the face of widespread, violent slum evictions, through negotiations with local politicians, bureaucrats and activists. I am also interested in the history of the city and social movements, and remain obsessed with my hometown Chennai for now, although I teach about the Global South more broadly.
What brought you to UBC Geography?
A timely job call for a position in Global Urbanism / Urbanization just when I was thinking about giving the job market a go as a PhD candidate! It feels amazing to be part of a department that has made momentous contributions to the discipline, and I look forward to teaching and doing research from a “Southern” perspective, with a focus on South Asia.
Is there a project you’re currently working on? How has it been affected by COVID-19?
Last winter, I began to set up my next project, a collaborative oral history project with my colleagues in Pennurimai Iyakkam, a 40-year old slum dweller rights organization in Chennai. COVID has definitely thrown a wrench into the data collection and interview timeline I had originally envisaged. But I am busy enough in the meantime, and remain hopeful about making progress on the project in 2021.
How has it felt starting a new job, in a new country, during a pandemic?
It has definitely felt weird to start this job in the middle of a pandemic… moving countries, only to sit in front of my computer in my apartment to work. It has also felt very strange not being able to go to my new workplace and talk to colleagues in an ordinary workday. But it is amazing how quickly we all get used to new circumstances, even though I really miss the social and intellectual aspects of being on a university campus. I look forward to spending time with students in person, teaching and interacting in classrooms again, going to campus talks, and meeting my colleagues for coffee when this is all over.
Do you have any advice for students who are also starting at UBC in these circumstances?
I’ve been telling my students not to feel like they are going through this alone during the pandemic (easier said than done, I know). Even though we are not all facing the exact same difficulties, it has been a strange and difficult year for everyone, in one way or another. Don’t hesitate to ask your professors for help or advice on how to survive the semester — we are worried about you, and will be more than happy to help.