Podcast episode 1: Siddharth Pandey

The Insurrection Interviews podcast is part of Magic and Ecology, a year-long series of talks and online events where we invite researchers thinking about magic in relation to ecology, and practitioners working with magic to transform modes of earth-living in order to enable collaborative thinking across disciplines and practices. In this episode Simone Kotva speaks to Dr Siddharth Pandey about his work on witchcraft, landscapes, taskscapes and proteanism in contemporary fantasy fiction. 


Dr Siddharth Pandey is a literary critic and historian who works on enchantment, emplacement and the ethics of making; he is also a landscape photographer and curator, and has worked with numerous galleries and museums in India and the UK, including the Victoria and Albert in London and the Oriental Museum in Durham. Siddharth received his MPhil from the University of Delhi and in 2019 he was awarded his doctorate from the University of Cambridge with a dissertation on Crafting, Conjuring, and the Aesthetic of Making: Towards a Materialistic Understanding of Fantasy. Siddharth’s work looks at the representation of magic in fantasy and speculative fiction. His work upends the clichéd understanding of magic as escapist, free-form and otherworldly and demonstrates instead its close relationship to artistic making, landscape and attentiveness to material becoming. As Siddharth writes, in fantasy, “Magic, notwithstanding its supernaturalism, can be linked with embodied, material manifestations, that situate or ‘ground’ it to configure a realm of fantastical tasks…. Witchcraft and the supernatural in general are inseparable from the environment of their production. …Witchcraft…necessarily requires one to ‘get dirty’.”

Siddharth’s research also engages with the politics of space and the practices of everyday life: he is a specialist on Shimla, the Himalayan mountain town whose spatial evolution from colonial “hill station” to its present-day, complex form is the subject of his earliest work. Here he stresses the idea of mutability and impermanence, arguing that built spaces cannot be analysed abstractly but must be lived and experienced as changing, and as sites of change. He writes about how sensitivity to the narratives of place are a prerequisite for understanding the environmental precariousness faced by rapidly expanding urban towns like Shimla.

Siddharth thinking always resists univocal explanations and digs deep into the tensions, ambivalences and ambiguities that generate change. He is a really wonderful guide for thinking with the often misunderstood sense of what magic is, how it works and why it might matter to the mattering of the planet. 

For more information about Siddharth’s work, please check out his Instagram account (@shimlasiddharthpandey) and the links below:

(March 15, 2020). From Kipling to Manisha Koirala: How Indian Hill Stations Came to Assume Feminine Identities. Scroll.in. https://scroll.in/article/953639/from-kipling-to-manisha-koirala-how-indian-hill-stations-came-to-assume-feminine-identities

(January 12, 2020). Robert Macfarlane and the Generosity of Nature Writing. The Indian Expresshttps://indianexpress.com/article/express-sunday-eye/the-landscapes-of-craft-6208129/

(2020). ‘Emplacing Tasks of Magic: Hand, Land, and the Generation of Fantasy Taskscape in Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching Series.’ Geohumanities (T & F), Vol. 6 (1), 39-50.

(March 24, 2019). Winter Vicissitudes: Reminiscences on the Passing of a Season. The Pioneerhttps://www.dailypioneer.com/2019/sunday-edition/winter-vicissitudes–reminiscences-on-the-waning-of-a-season.html

(September 9, 2018). At Home: The Intimacy of Hill Stations. The Pioneer.https://www.dailypioneer.com/2018/sunday-edition/at-home–the-intimacy-of-hill-stations.html

(2017). Framing Simla: The Queen of Hill Stations and the Politics of Iconography. Visual Histories of South Asia. Edited by Annamaria Montrescu-Meyers and Marcus Banks. Primus (Delhi). 231-251.

(2015). Between Knowing and Unknowing: Understanding the Fluid Force of Magic in the Harry Potter Series. Ravenclaw Reader [The St. Andrews University Conference]: Seeking Artistry and Meaning in J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts Saga. Edited by John Patrick Pazdziora and Micah Snell, Unlocking Press (Oklahoma). 51-74.

(2014). Simla or Shimla: The Indian Political Appropriation of Little England. Book Chapter. Consuming Architecture: On the Occupation, Appropriation and Interpretation of Buildings. Edited by Daniel Maudlin and Marcel Vellinga, Routledge (Oxford). 133-153.

MAGIC AND ECOLOGY is hosted by CRASSH the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Cambridge, and co-convened by Hjördis Becker-Lindenthal, Sophie Lunn-Rockliffe and Simone Kotva.