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SMADJA Joëlle – Emeritus senior researcher

Emeritus senior researcher – CNRS

Contact: joelle.smadja [at]


Geographer (CNRS section 39)
Research Topics

Joëlle Smadja carries out research in Nepal and North-East India. Her work focuses on land use and natural resource management, on populations’ conceptions and representations of milieus, on the production of landscapes over time, on territorial restructurings, on environmental policies and explanatory narratives, from which the former originate, as well as on environmental conflicts. Her research takes into account physical data from milieus in their close interrelation with the societies occupying them and is related to environmental science, especially regarding issues concerning deforestation, the climate and erosion. This research is often carried out within interdisciplinary programmes.

The repercussions of environmental protection policies on agriculture and on rural societes, and in particular territorial restructurings which result from these, have mainly been studied in North-East India (Assam and Arunachal Pradesh), within a project funded by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR): Language, Culture and Territory in North-East India (Brahmaputra Studies)

Since 2010 she has been orienting her research towards:

- the judicialisation of environmental issues within the programme "Justice and Governance in Contemporary India and South Asia" (Just-India) which was funded by ANR (2009-2012) and coordinated by Daniela Berti and Gilles Tarabout, and within the programme "Taking Nature to the Court Room. Development projects, protected areas and religious reform in South Asia" (2015-2017), a programme that she coordinates alongside Daniela Berti from CEH and also Blandine Ripert and Raphaël Voix from CEIAS,

- climate change and its repercussions on water resources and its use in Nepal (Everest region, Solu Khumbu district). This research has been conducted within two interdisciplinary programmes (gathering together geographers, agronomists, glaciologists, hydrologists, climate specialists) which are funded by ANR: the PAPRIKA (2010-2013) programme "CryosPheric responses to Anthropogenic PRessures in the HIndu Kush-Himalaya regions: impact on water resources and society adaptation in Nepal" coordinated by Yves Arnaud (LGTE), and the PRESHINE (2014-2018) programme "Pressure on Water and Soil Resources in the Nepalese Himalayas" coordinated by Isabelle Sacareau (PASSAGES). Photo-reportage of work by geographers Joëlle Smadja and Olivia Aubriot within the PRESHINE project

Joëlle is an active member of the ANR project Local Forest Governance: Development, Environment and Political Economy in Nepal (Gouvernance Locale des Forêts : Développement, Environnement et Économie Politique au Népal – GoLFor-DEEPN) (2018-2022) which is coordinated by François Libois from the Ecole d’Economie de Paris. The project aims to assess, on a Nepalese scale, the effects of decentralisation of forest management from the Forest Department to the local level (1) on forest cover, (2) on collective action within villages and (3) on the functioning of the local political system. After decades of deforestation, forest cover has improved slightly over the last 20 years. There are no large-scale studies that specifically analyse the causes of deforestation. Economic growth, rural exodus, civil war, the development of alternative energies, and the planting of trees on private land are other potential explanations for this improvement.

She is currently also contributing to another ANR project: Ruling on Nature. Animals and the Environment before the Court (2020-2024) which is coordinated by Daniela Berti (CEH). This project sets out to study how nature-related issues are brought before law courts; how the environment and animal protection are handled at judicial level by lawyers, activists, and the state; how nature is ‘judicialised’ and ‘governed’ through the judiciary in different countries, and how the global debate on acknowledging some kind of rights to nature and animals is implemented in actual litigations.


- environment
- rural geography
- tropical mountains
- representation of milieus
- territories
- agroforestry
- justice
- climate change

- Nepal: Nuwakot district (Salme), Gulmi district, Argha Khanci district, Palpa district (Massyam), Dailekh district (Dullu), Solu Khumbu distriict
- India: Arunachal Pradesh (West Siang), Assam, Uttaranchal (Kumaon, Garhwal).
Video (in French): Olivia Aubriot et Joelle Smadja - Recherche interdisciplinaire sur le changement climatique et la ressource en eau dans la région de l’Everest (Olivia Aubriot and Joelle Smadja - Interdisciplinary research on climate change and water resources in the Everest region)

Trailer of the documentary (in French): Un nuage sur le toit du monde (A Cloud over the Roof of the World)

Un nuage sur le toit du monde - Bande-annonce from Association Science Télévision on Vimeo.

Liste des publications dans HAL
Selective bibliography

2019 – Aubriot O., Faulon M., Sacareau I., Puschiasis O., Jacquemet E., Smadja J., André-Lamat V., Abadia C., Muller A., "Reconfiguration of the Water-Energy-Food Nexus in the Everest Tourist Region of Solu-Khumbu, Nepal", Mountain Research and Development 39(1), (18 June 2019).

2018 – Smadja J., A Chronicle of Law Implementation in Environmental Conflicts : The Case of Kaziranga National Park in Assam, North-East India - special issue, Through the Lens of the Law : Power and Society in India, SAMAJ (South Asia Multidisciplinary Academic Journal [online]), 17, 38p.

2015 – Smadja J., Aubriot O., Puschiasis O., Duplan T., Grimaldi J., Hugonnet M., et Buchheit P., Climate change and water ressources in the Himalayas. Field study in four geographic units of the Koshi basin, Nepal, Journal of Alpine Research, n°103-2/2015,

2013 – (ed. J. Smadja), Territorial changes and territorial restructurings in the Himalayas . Delhi, Adroit Publishers, 353 p.

2013 - Smadja J. How Environmental Policies Reshape the Himalayan Area. New Environmental Territories, New Environmental Borders; the Example of Kaziranga National Park (Assam) in J. Smadja (ed.) Territorial changes and territorial restructurings in the Himalayas , Delhi, Adroit Publishers, pp 223-245

2009 - Smadja J. (ed.) Reading Himalayan Landscapes over Time. Environmental perception, Knowledge and Practice in Nepal and Ladakh . Collection Sciences Sociales n°14. Institut Français de Pondichéry. Inde. 671 p. (traduction de l’ouvrage Histoire et devenir des paysages en Himalaya. Représentation des milieux et gestion des ressources au Népal et au Ladakh, 2003, CNRS Editions)

Complete list of publications