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Questionable Deeds and Unenviable Records: New Urbanism, Development, and the Politics of Place in South Asia
There has been a spate of new urbanization initiatives and large scale infrastructure development projects across South Asia that are inspired by the aesthetic of creation ex nihilo after the manner of ‘global’ cities and economies such as Singapore, Dubai, and Hong Kong. In a sense, there has been a reconfiguration of the postcolonial desire for development away from the gradualist aesthetic of the 1970s towards a new instant results model. Development or urbanization is no more the distant light at the end of a tunnel but rather it is something already out there in an elsewhere that one merely has to replicate properly to reap its benefits in the here and now. However, the implementation of urban housing schemes, development projects, and infrastructures is made possible by dispossession of populations who have occupied these lands as farmers, artisanal fishermen, and slum dwellers. The inauguration or the announcement of a development scheme or urbanization project turns it into a site of struggle and contention thereby setting off a chain of resistance and engagements that threaten to alter, derail, or stop the project in its tracks. This resistance not only comes from organized protest, advocacy, and litigation by the have-nots but the very histories of documentation of land, relationship between residents, outsiders, and the local officialdom, practices of land-use, and ecological changes may conspire against the new developmental utopia.
This panel seeks to examine and engage in a robust discussion on the practices of place-making, the right to place, and dispossession in the context of emerging urban and developmental geographies in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan. In particular, we try to understand how places are (re)made or transformed through a triangulation between official developmental narratives or visions, organized resistance by the dispossessed people and their allies, and bureaucratic practices or banal official transactions rooted in particular histories of the postcolonial state in South Asia. Our tentative proposition is that the nature of the conjuncture between the relatively invisible routine bureaucratic procedures and practice, the dispossessed people, and the utopic development plans may be as significant as the more publicly visible confrontation between the dispossessed people and state authorities in the form of forced evictions and protest rallies.
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