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The Right to the Slum? Redevelopment, Rule and the Politics of Difference in Mumbai

  • Author(s): Doshi, Sapana
  • Advisor(s): Watts, Michael J
  • et al.
Abstract

This dissertation engages a central paradox concerning spatial transformation in Mumbai today. It asks how elite-biased, global-city redevelopment interventions entailing the mass displacement of the urban poor are made politically feasible in an ostensibly democratic city with strong working-class movements. In unraveling this paradox, it offers a perspective that diverges from recent scholarly debates on social movements in Indian cities and neoliberal urban governance. The urban social movements literature has focused on the agency of the poor, seeing new slum mobilizations as a burgeoning form of substantive democracy through which the poor access their needs. Neoliberal governance debates position states and logics of rule as the primary agents facilitating transnational capital accumulation through new spatial practices in cities and regions. Instead, this research on the politics of slum eviction shows how differentiated social mobilizations are deeply intertwined with and constitutive of a changing state and its redevelopmental interventions.

Through a comparative ethnography of the politics of eviction, this dissertation makes two interconnected arguments. First, it shows how the structure and operation of the state has shifted to politically facilitate large-scale projects and en masse slum removal. In such new configurations, the urban poor no longer have the ability to leverage their votes in exchange for governmental compensation. Instead, bureaucracies have centralized control of redevelopment processes while unevenly distributing displacement compensation, via market mechanisms, through NGOs, social movements and other non-state actors.

Second, it demonstrates how changing meanings and historically sedimented practices of social mobilization around eviction in Mumbai are central to these transformations in redevelopmental governance. It draws on a Gramscian conceptualization of the state and hegemony to understand how redevelopment is advanced, thwarted and negotiated. Hegemony, as Gramsci understood it, is a historically specific set of processes through which the interests of dominant classes are secured. The hegemonic state is a site of social struggle within and beyond its formal structures operating in and through a variety of interconnected institutions, civil society groups and social relations. As the apparatus of the redevelopment interests of elite classes in Mumbai, state hegemony has operated through a mix of force, negotiation and consent in multiple arenas through which evicted slum residents, NGOs, movements and other representative agents have become significant political actors. Redevelopmental hegemony also operates in the realm of meanings and cultural formations, what Gramsci called ethico-political struggles. This ethico-political dimension is immensely important in Mumbai's redevelopment and eviction processes. Because of a history of development in which class struggles over urban land and housing have articulated with gender and with Hindu-nationalist and regionalist identity politics, eviction has engendered differentiated experiences and politics. Furthermore, non-state intermediaries shape collective subjectivities by drawing on histories of struggle as well as globally circulating development and rights-based discourses. Accordingly, evicted slum dwellers have occupied highly contradictory positions--challenging, enabling and reworking redevelopment interventions through their aspirations and ethico-political claims to space.

The dissertation explores three political trajectories of eviction in ethnographic relational comparison--a method grounded in the idea that differentiated political practices and interconnections are crucial for understanding power-laden spatial processes like redevelopment and displacement. In all three cases, the experience and politics of eviction operated along three axes of difference: class, gender and ethno-religious identity. In the first case, gendered participation and NGO-mediation helped to suture cooperation with market-based resettlement for a World Bank-funded transport infrastructure project. In the second case, slum residents evicted for road construction under the same transport project contested forced displacement with the assistance of a lawyer in a transnational forum citing infractions of World Bank resettlement norms and loss of income. In the third case, evicted slum residents--many having marginalized ethno-religious identities--aligned with a social movement highly critical of neoliberal development and resisted state violence and uncompensated displacement as citizens excluded from the city and nation.

Through this comparative exploration of struggles over meaning and space, this study shows that difference--in the socio-spatial experience and in the practices of representation and mediation of eviction--serves to rework state power and its capacity to advance the cultural politics of belonging and the political economy of global-city redevelopment.

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