Mediating Mumbai: ethnographic explorations of urban linkage

by Lisa Björkman and Chitra Venkataramani

Working Papers WP 17-12
October 2017
ISSN 2192-2357 (MMG Working Papers Print)

Full text: pdf

The disjunctive and incongruous texture and form of Mumbai’s urban fabric suggests that explanations for Mumbai’s fitful growth and transformation might be found somewhere in the offices of city planners. How do imaginaries and boundarymaking practices of city planners relate to the way the ethnographic city is “knit together”? This paper draws on empirical research from two territories that are differently linked up with the city of Mumbai to probe the significance of socio-spatial and temporal proximity (or distance) to the processes of “linkage” (silsila) by means of which territories become part of the fabric of the city. The empirical accounts reveal how concepts and categories borne of planning imaginaries and boundarymaking practices are themselves constitutive of the sociomaterial contradictions that “linkage” practices mediate - practices which attempts to know/represent the city “as a whole” would seek to resolve. The paper thus makes a case for conceptualizing (and engaging) city planners, surveyors and engineers as not as experts who “intervene” or act upon cities as planning objects, but rather as mediators in a world of mediators: socially situated actors working within the social and material complexities and contradictions of always-already mediated urban processes.

Keywords: Ethnography, planning, urban/village, mediation, migration, Mumbai.

Lisa Björkman is Assistant Professor of Urban Affairs at University of Louisville and Visiting Scholar at the Urban Studies Institute at University of Antwerp. Her research studies how global processes of urbanism and urban transformation are redrawing lines of socio-spatial exclusions and inclusions, and animating new arenas and scales of political mobilization, contestation and representation. Her first book, Pipe Politics, Contested Waters: Embedded Infrastructures of Millennial Mumbai (Duke University Press, 2015) was awarded the American Institute of Indian Studies’ 2014 Joseph Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences.

Chitra Venkataramani is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore. An anthropologist by training, she is broadly interested in science and technology Studies, urbanism, climate change, and visual culture. Her current book project traces the role of cartographic images in shaping contemporary ecological politics in Mumbai.