Displacement, Revolution, and the New Urban Condition: Theories and Case Studies


Ipsita Chatterjee

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    List of Images

    • 2.1 Makeshift Stage Celebrating Ratha Yatra (Chariot Procession in Honor of Hindu Gods) in the Courtyard of the AMC, Ahmedabad, India 26
    • 2.2 Saffron Arches with Pictures of Government Officials Constructed as a Part of the Celebration of Ratha Yatra (Chariot Procession in Honor of Hindu Gods) All over the City of Ahmedabad, India 26
    • 2.3 Elephants Rented by the AMC Stand in Readiness for the Impending Chariot Procession 27
    • 2.4 The Concept Plan 39
    • 2.5 SRFD Project in 2006, with the Poor Still Inhabiting the Banks in Flimsy Huts Seen in the Distance 40
    • 2.6 SRFD Project in 2010 40
    • 3.1 The Enterprising Slum—Slum-dwellers Using the River to Serve the City with Informal Laundry Facilities 63
    • 3.2 Inhabitants of the River, Khanpur Basti (Slum) along the River Sabarmati, Photograph Taken from a Bridge, 2010 63
    • 3.3 A Muslim Home in Khanpur Made of Discarded Wood and Rope, 2010 64
    • 3.4 Khanpur Basti (Slum) along the River Sabarmati; Snaking Lanes Barely Wide Enough for One Person Serve as a Sewage Disposal Artery as well, 2010 65
    • 3.5 The City and the Slum Blend into One Another 65
    • 3.6 Sabarmati Nagrik Adhikar Manch Business Card Displaying the Hindu “Om,” Muslim Star and Crescent, and Christian Cross to Emphasize the Need for Intercommunity Cooperation in the Sabarmati River Front Resistance Movement 68
    • 3.7 Original Concept Plan Showing Rehabilitation Housing for Slum-dwellers Was Supposed to be Constructed in Close Proximity to the Slums along the River Banks 70
    • 3.8 Over a Thousand Homes Have Been Removed and Constructions Are Underway, 2010 71
    • 4.1 Vivekananda Mill Resettlement Site Is Complete—Muslim Families Who Went to Take a Look at Their Prospective Homes Were Chased Away 94
    • 4.2 Wadaj Resettlement Site, Where a Few Muslim Families Find Themselves Uncomfortably Placed among a Majority Hindu Population 95
    • 4.3 Ajit Mill Complex Has Been Resettled and Here Hindus Find Themselves in the Minority 96


    This book was made possible because of the cooperation and support of the poor and courageous people on the banks of the Sabarmati River who write this book every day in the day-to-day context of their everyday life. The reality of their existence, their constant struggle, and resilience inspires me—I want to acknowledge that I have merely attempted to conceptualize the concreteness of struggling people's everyday life, they do the hard work of living it and altering it. I am grateful to the South Asia Institute, University of Texas at Austin, for supporting me financially for my 2010 field trip to Ahmedabad. I am infinitely grateful to Paul Adams for walking me through the labors of book proposal writing and advising me in his own quiet way on life and work. Dick Peet's constant encouragement and loving presence egged me on when the going became tough. When I felt that I could not do it any longer—the material and conceptual struggles are too hard and it would be easy to give up, Dick's encouragement and faith in me kept me going. I am grateful to my parents who tolerated me and supported me even when they were not quite sure what I was up to in hundred degrees heat in Ahmedabad—Ma and Baba in their own little ways have always stressed the importance of deep understanding, analysis, and respect for the difficult realities that surround us. Waquar's ability to tolerate me baffles me, especially during this book-writing project when I was also balancing motherhood for the first time, and was not dealing with either of the tasks very well—no other person could have supported me the way he did. Waquar is an intellectual inspiration, a kind and generous human being, and a fantastic father. Little Nadia was six weeks old when I started writing this book, now she is two years old, in many ways, this book and Nadia are my two little ones who grew each day, I learnt so much from the book writing process and the motherhood process, I will never be the same again. I am also grateful to the Department of Geography, University of North Texas for graciously offering me a position that allowed me to intellectually and personally transit to a better place as I completed this book.


    This book attempts to conceptualize the contemporary urban condition. I wanted to stress the importance of conceptualization, because it is a very hard thing to do, but it is the most important thing that a human being can do after eating. This may sound outrageous, but allow me to explain, eating is important for survival, it involves the complex act of putting food into the mouth, chewing it, and then digestion, which involves multiple acts of intestinal juices breaking up the food and converting it to energy. Conceptualization is the intellectual act of digestion, it involves the complex act of observing, feeling, touching, smelling, understanding, and recording the reality in which one is imbricated, and then synthesizing the heterogeneous, disjointed, scattered perceptions into a coherent theory that will allow someone else situated and imbricated in a different reality to understand and explain his/her world. Conceptualization allows us to build connections so that we can understand, explain, and ameliorate difficult realities with which we may not be immediately connected. Conceptualization is, therefore, an intensely political act, it is also very democratic—it enables us to be empathetic toward other people's realities, it allows us to explain those realities, share those realities, and participate in overhauling the oppressiveness of those realities. Without conceptualization there would be no democratic politics, because we would be stuck in our individual realities unable to share, act, and be agents of change for a more global context than the specificity of our very own lives. Conceptualization, therefore, forms the body politic of the global digestive process.

    The urban condition needs conceptualization; because the world continues to become more urban, urbanization process continues unabated especially in the Third World. There are interesting books, monographs, articles, and opinion pieces on the contradictory nature of contemporary urbanization as it continues to be fueled by processes of globalization. These interesting pieces talk about rural—urban migration fueled by changes in the agricultural sector as a result of structural adjustment ushered by globalization, they talk about informalization of urban labor and associated marginalizations, they discuss slum eviction and erasure of the poor, and they also talk about standardization of the urban landscape. The central logic that connects all these processes is the concept of exploitation—someone somewhere is being oppressed as a result of contemporary urbanization, and this exploitation is usually operationalized through some form of displacement—someone somewhere must move and hence produce space for someone else. This context of exploitation through displacement is the pivot on which the new urban condition is hinged, it is also the pivot around which most urban resistance is formulated. This process of displacement, therefore, needs conceptualization so that it can be transported from the very local contexts of its actualization to form the body politic of analysis of global urban condition.

    This book attempts to conceptualize urban exploitation through displacement from a Marxist perspective by arguing that although displacement is latent in most Marxist theories of exploitation, it is not brought to the forefront and hence, not deeply theorized largely because of the Marxist focus on labor rather than place/space. Lefebvre, David Harvey, and Neil Smith have devoted a lot of intellectual energy in conceptualizing the exploitations embedded in space through the concepts of production of space and uneven development. Ed Soja has talked about spatial justice rather than social justice. Dick Peet has conceptualized the geographies of power and Kevin Cox says that place is important in the globalization of injustice. All these ideas are very important and inspire this book; however, here, I have attempted to do something different, I have attempted to indicate how labor and laboring spaces are not two different things, labor produces herself through space; therefore when we talk about exploitation of labor we are implicitly talking about exploitation of spaces of existence. So, the issue here is not that some spaces have more capital than others (uneven development), or some places are chosen by neoliberal capital and others are not, but rather, estrangement of labor from itself which is the crux of the Marxist concept of “alienation” is also simultaneously estrangement of space. Therefore, all exploitations, but particularly, urban exploitation, must be conceptualized as “estranged spaces.” At least, that is how most resistance movements understand their material context of exploitation—as spaces taken away. It is important that we understand urban exploitation as a form of displacement and resistance as a politics of staying put. This is not to say that exploitation does not originate in wage relations, but rather to point out that exploitations originating in wage relations are actualized through spatial estrangement.

    I have used examples from Ahmedabad city, India, more particularly the Sabarmati River Front Development (SRFD) project to provide the flesh and sinew that covers my central thesis on urban exploitation and displacement. The purpose here is not to provide another monograph of a Third World city's urban context, but rather, to conceptualize urban exploitation and resistance. In that context, this book is not about Ahmedabad's SRFD project, it is about beginning a serious conversation about the labor–space dualism that has been central in Marxist theories of exploitation. In doing that, I hope to answer the call for reversing theory transfer, that is, hopefully re-inform and re-engage with some theories (like gentrification, new urban politics, municipal neoliberalism, right to the city), that emerged in Euro America and which I find very helpful, but in the field, in a Third World city, these theories require some re-thinking. This is not some post-colonial project of destabilizing the “West,” because I do not believe that good theories, and usually good theories are those that shed light on various forms of oppression, can be clubbed as “western” or “non-western.” Theories on exploitation are global, because exploitation is a global condition; therefore, my attempt here is to re-engage with some important urban theories, which happened to emerge in Euro America but have been globally used. The Third World urban condition allows me to re-engage with them by bringing material examples of exploitation from places outside Euro America, thus hopefully, making these theories more global than they were before.

    Ahmedabad city is a suitable place for material examples of exploitation, because Gujarat, the state in which Ahmedabad city is situated, has been touted as a “developed state” in India. The chief minister of Gujarat is being lauded for his global outlook toward development and is being pitched as the prime ministerial candidate for India. Development here is conceptualized as per capita growth, investment, greenness of the city, cleanliness of the roads, and beauty of the “modern” landscapes. Unfortunately, Ahmedabad city, Gujarat, has a history of tense Hindu–Muslim communal relations, its landscape materializes class, caste, and Islamophobic exclusions, and the SRFD project is a vibrant fault line that reveals the striations of all these exploitations. The fieldwork for this book was carried out in 2006 and 2010 and hence the analysis, interpretations, and conceptualizations are based on data collected until 2010. The project, however, is ongoing and much displacement and resettlement has transpired since then.

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    About the Author

    Ipsita Chatterjee is an assistant professor in the Department of Geography, University of North Texas. She has also served as an assistant professor at the Department of Geography and the Environment, University of Texas at Austin, from 2009 to 2013, and a visiting assistant professor at the Department of Geography, Pennsylvania State University. Chatterjee's research focuses on the political, economic, and cultural dimensions of globalization, displacement, violence, and class/identity-based urban exclusions. She has authored articles in Urban Studies, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Geoforum, Gender, Place and Culture, among others.

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