Dr. Lisa Björkman, 2011-2014

Curriculum Vitae

Lisa Björkman is now at the University of Louisville.

Lisa Björkman received her PhD in Politics from the New School for Social Research in 2012. So far she has taken on two big projects. The first is a political ethnography about the encounter in the Indian city of Mumbai between liberalizing market reforms and the materially-dense politics of the city’s water infrastructures, exploring the everyday political, social, and material dynamics that produce and inhabit flows of water through the growing and globalizing city. This project, which was the core of her doctoral dissertation (2011), has resulted in three journal articles as well as a forthcoming book, Pipe Politics: Mumbai’s Contested Waters (Duke University Press), which was recipient of the American Institute of Indian Studies’ 2014 Joseph W. Elder Prize in the Indian Social Sciences.

Her second project, which was carried out as a postdoctoral fellow with the Max Planck Institute, extended her previous work on the everyday politics of infrastructural provisioning and access to more explicitly engage with the formal institutions of politics and policymaking. This research, which was carried out in Mumbai over eight months in 2012-2013 in conjunction with the city’s Municipal Corporation elections, involved ethnographic research in a popular (‘slum’) neighborhood, focusing on the role of election-season cash exchange in producing and reconfiguring socio-political networks of power and authority in the city. Probing popular and scholarly debates about urban politics, bureaucratic corruption and political clientelism, she shows how election-season exchange animates intricate, contingent, highly-speculative relational and informational networks by means of which democratic representation is actually produced and instantiated – and political contestations and substantive citizenship claims articulated. This research has resulted in several papers and articles, including a forthcoming article in American Ethnologist (November 2014) titled “’You Can’t Buy a Vote’: meanings of money in a Mumbai election,’ and a chapter in a new volume on Patronage as the Politics of South Asia (Cambridge University Press, October 2014).  A third article – an ethnographic and theoretical exploration of political representation in contemporary urban India (titled “The Practice of Representation”) is in preparation.

Lisa’s new research as a postdoctoral research fellow with the University of Göttingen’s Transregional Research Network will extend her previous work on material and infrastructural politics to look at the multiple and contesting iterations and urban imaginaries operative in contemporary Mumbai.  Much contemporary work on Indian urbanism has been concerned with (on the one hand) the presumed cultural and economic ‘bourgeois transformation’ of the city, driven by a globally-empowered middle class touting a ‘world class’ development agenda in the name of liberalism and individual (property/contract) rights, and (on the other hand) the multiple and various ways in which these transformations are resisted by socio-cultural forms and lifeworlds thought to be ‘uncolonized’ by liberal capitalism and its universalizing impetus.  This new research takes a somewhat different approach, focusing instead on the transregional flows of resources, ideas, materials and desires at work in making and remaking the city of Mumbai. The first phase of this research, which Lisa began during the summer of 2014, studies a massive urban redevelopment and infrastructural upgrading project, conceived of by the spiritual leader of Mumbai’s million-strong Dawoodi Bohra community. The project is being carried out neither by the state, nor by the private sector, but rather as a non-profit venture by a community religious trust.  Spread over 16.5 acres in a central Mumbai market district of Bhendi Bazaar, the project aims to reconfigure one of most prominent and oldest market neighborhoods of Mumbai, home to more than 20,000 people and thousands of commercial establishments.  The project explores the flows of resources, ideas, and materials animating the project, and at the variegated socio-cultural, religious or community networks and political idioms and material practices through which the project is actually unfolding.

Research projects:

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