Urban life in South Asia has encompassed volatile conditions catalyzed not only by globalization, urbanization and neoliberal economic restructuring, but also by dramatic changes in the national political-economy, for instance the emergence of new electoral democracies that disrupt established norms of rule and privilege, the rise of xenophobic and exclusivist agendas that are cast within nationalist discourses, and new political rationalities that affect state transformations and urban policy. New forms of representation, plebian identities and ethnic markings coalesce in ways that disrupt the ideal vision of the modern, secular city. Alongside the new politics of xenophobia in which violence is an integral part of public culture sits the rhetoric of entitlements and aspirations of the 'phantom' urban majority who define their stakes through contradictory and competing claims to the city. For the urban majority the precarity of urban life encompasses constant dislocations, deceptions and uncertainties that may amount to a mode of knowing or discerning political possibilities. In the realm of participatory politics hope is often dashed and replaced with the politics of irritation.
The contestations or conflicts over urban spaces and resources arising from the multiple commitments that residents make are emblematic of new conceptions of rights, notions of belonging and multiple forms of law. Law especially presents both a threat and a hope in the lived experiences of the poor. If we consider cities in South Asia as stages for the enactment and negotiations of democratic or egalitarian forms of citizenship, then we must also endeavor to understand how violence, insurgent practices and the deceptive nature of urban life both undermine and facilitate struggles for political or social transformation. While insurgent practices may expand citizenship, violence simultaneously corrodes and undermines the basis of political participation. State violence/oppression, the violation of rights, and the purposeful creation of insecurity at times in the name of development reflect the state's coercive actions against subaltern groups.
The multidisciplinary workshop explores the nature of and relationship between violence and insurgent practices and the limits and slippages of state sovereignty that are constituted in the making of the built and social environments. Deception is deployed as an exploratory device to understand (1) how norms residents conventionally rely upon to know their settings eventually morph into something completely different, and (2) how vernacular strategies of claiming properties, producing infrastructures and legible citizens constitutes governance and city making processes. The city then is a site of myriad aberrations, of violence, insurgency, of protests over service delivery and of discourses of corruption, secrecy and land frauds. By making cities in South Asia a focal point of conflicts, protests and risk, we seek to problematize assumptions about the urban political sphere, which is conventionally regarded as a compartmentalized and dichotomous universe of public/private, state/civil society, secular/religious, rule of law/unruliness, formal/informal, modernity/tradition, etc. Instead, we approach the political sphere in urban South Asia as a dynamic embedded in the lived conditions of city life and buttressed by the voices of refusal, separation, resistance and uncertainty. We seek to interrogate the possibilities of political agency arising from everyday negotiations across the multiple and uneven terrains of these pervasive dichotomies.
Dr Nausheen H. Anwar
Postdoctoral Fellow, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Ms Valerie Yeo
Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore