Status, mediation and debt in Mumbai (completed)

Ajay Gandhi

Indian cities have witnessed dramatic changes since the country’s economy was liberalized in the 1990s. Infrastructural transformation, as manifested in property speculation and gentrification, has unfolded alongside social realignment. Benchmarks for status and prestige have shifted markedly in recent years; acceptable forms of display and distinction have also changed. Existing forms of urban mutuality and connectivity increasingly intersect with newer instruments for borrowing and lending. Alongside this, a vast infrastructure of agents and intermediaries has sprung up to enable access to goods, services and credit. These converging processes are investigated in this postdoctoral project on status, mediation and debt in Mumbai. The project is informed by the following research question: How do economic opportunities become entangled in status distinctions and credit access, and what are the mechanics for realizing them?

These three themes are being investigated through interviews, case studies, and participant observation in a popular neighbourhood in central Mumbai. The focus is on how status is performed and the articulation of aspirational benchmarks, venues for accessing liquidity and the consequences of indebtedness, and the networks of fixers and operators who constitute the in-between between citizen or consumer and state or service provider. The material gathered will allow for engagement with anthropological debates on sovereignty, mediation and distinction. 


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