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Urban India

Ongoing fieldwork since 2011 in Mangaluru, Karnataka into the effects of intense urbanisation in everyday life.

Conducting the City: A Multimodal Essay about Housing and Land Brokers in India

I pubslished Conducting the City: A Multimodal Essay about Housing and Land Brokers in India in the journal entanglements, 5(1/2): 227-232 as part of the special issue Rhythmic Aesthetic Formations which I co-edited with Valerie Hänsch and Sandro Simon.

Mangaluru, a smaller city in coastal south India, is undergoing wide reaching and transformative urbanisation. This short essay film explores the working lives of housing and land brokers amidst urban change. Starting from a point of hearing, the contribution is an invitation to listen to the city’s multiple concurrent rhythmic patterns: patterns of buildings being built; of faith, selling and sport; of consumption, production, and desire. These rhythmic patterns form the everyday urban aesthetics of Mangaluru; regularities that produce sensory familiarity and create an overarching rhythmic formation against which individual rhythmic patterns are measured and understood. In urban Indian, where the wider aesthetic rhythmic formation is one shaped by a vague and powerful desire to construct a ‘modern’ city, groups and individuals can fall in and out of time with imagined futures. Within this, housing and land brokers seek to establish and maintain regular schedules and routines, whilst also linking, mediating, and synchronising buyers and sellers through their work and thus conducting the city around them as they go about their everyday lives.

Mud Marine: The Rise and Fall of Mangalore Tiles

I contributed a photo essay called Mud Marine: The Rise and Fall of Mangalore Tiles to Sharpening the Haze: Visual Essays on Imperial History and Memory edited by Giulia Carabelli, Miloš Jovanović, Annika Kirbis, Jeremy F. Walton. In it I argue:

A visual analysis of colonial and post-colonial buildings reveals how the lines that serve as real barriers of exclusion intersect with the in-between material and representational structures of the built form; how cultural and spatial histories can be traced through buildings as they reference both global urban forms and local urbanisms; and, more specifically, how layers of overlapping, crumbling, moss-ridden tiles speak to the overlapping, crumbling and nature-reclaiming temporal and spatial frameworks of coloniality, global capitalism, post-coloniality and indigeneity. This photo essay explores a style of roofing tile associated with a smaller city in coastal southwest India: Mangalore Tiles. Though roof tiles were produced for centuries utilising the clay found on the banks of the rivers than conjoin at the city, Mangalore Tiles rose to prominence after the production process was industrialised by the Basel Evangelical Missionary Society from 1865 onwards. Once tiles of international renown, the production process has slowed to a trickle in recent decades. Using both archival and my own photographs all taken from within a few hundred square metres around the original tile factory, I argue it is possible to see the straight lines of a ‘civilising’ empire; neoliberalism’s desire to produce global representations of sameness; land’s material, economic and poetic instability; ghostly hauntings from the past and future; insecure masculine militaristic language; and the scattered remains left by the transmogrifications of empires. 

Immoral Times: Vigilantism in a South Indian City

I have a chapter in the book ‘Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India’ edited by Angana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen and Christophe Jaffrelot (Hurst, 2019) called Immoral Times (which can be found on and on research gate) as well as in the book and in which I argue:

Neoliberalism and right-wing Hindu nationalism… complement one another as they both see divisions within society as unnecessary, if not pathological, and create bounded internal and external realms (e.g. the Muslim other, or the welfare agency) in their rhetoric of ongoing revolutionary transformation. However, and here we turn towards the source of trouble on Mangaluru’s streets, whereas the individualism celebrated by economic liberalism offers ‘freedom’ (whilst holding the market supreme and punishing those who disrupt it), the individual within a majoritarian vision is always subordinated to the good of the Hindu community. This entwines with a perceived loss of national sovereignty with the deepening penetration of global capital, leading to attempts at controlling ‘national culture’, more often than not in ways that uphold rigid conceptions of gender and sexual identities.

Sizing the city: Lack, intimacy and niche positioning in Mangaluru, India

In Sizing the city: Lack, intimacy and niche positioning in Mangaluru, India published by City: Analysis of Urban Change, Theory, Action in Volume 22, 2018 – Issue 5-6 I argue the following:

We need to retheorise urbanism from the perspective of smaller, post-colonial cities in the global South to account for both relational size on a global scale and localised city-specific contexts. Cities like Mangaluru, in south India, cannot be solely understood as mere variations within universal processes, especially when these processes are theorised through big cities in the global North. They must also be explored through detailed analyses that, whilst attuned to global processes, recognise historical and contextual particularities as key for understanding city-specific urbanisms. However, because inhabitants and state officials often frame smaller cities as mere variations—and often as inferior variations—of large ‘Western’ cities, we must interrogate how such universal, global North centred thinking informs the urbanism of such places. Taking a relational and relative understanding of smallness, the article conceptualises Mangaluru as a ‘smaller’ as opposed to just a ‘small’ city. Building on this, it is argued that smaller post-colonial cities in the global South are characterised by 1) niche positioning; 2) a feeling of relative lack; and 3) the dense intimacy of relationships. Furthermore, through an analysis of Mangaluru’s most common framings—as a port, as an education hub, and as a city of vigilante attacks—it shows how these dominant characterisations are exceeded and reworked amidst the unpredictability and flux of urban change.

The Multiple Displacements of Mangalore Special Economic Zone

I co-wrote The Multiple Displacements of Mangalore Special Economic Zone together with the wonderful Vidya Dinker and Ramachandra Bhatta for Economic and Political Weekly.

You can download it here.

This paper analyses three different types of displacement – social, cultural and economic – in the lives of three women and their families which have been affected by the creation of the Mangalore special economic zone. Conceptualising the displacements in rhythmic terms, it first details the subversion of progressive land reforms and the reassertion of caste-based oppression, followed by the clash between the dharma of the spirits of the land and the neo-liberal dharma of capitalistic development. Finally, it looks at life in a resettlement colony where families that have been uprooted from the agricultural production cycle are closed off from the urban life they are expected to adopt.


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