Accepted Paper:

"Designed to fail": technopolitics of disavowal and disdain in an urbanizing frontier  


Shubhra Gururani (York University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper focuses on the socio-spatial transformations that are taking place in the hinterlands of metropolitan centers and focus on the city of Gurgaon in the southwest edge of New Delhi and examines how and why a city can be made without foundational infrastructures like sewerage.

Paper long abstract:

The paper focuses on the city of Gurgaon, a city that has been under construction for a few decades now. Hastily assembled by private developers, influential policy advisors, and builders, Gurgaon is a flexibly planned city and indexes a mode of spatial production that defies normative logics of urban planning, governance, and practice and urges us to revisit some of the dominant assumptions and narratives that have undergirded standard urban theory. Gurgaon lacks a citywide sewerage and it brazenly provides privatized services to elite and middle classes, while disavowing former rural residents and new migrant workers. By examining how and why a city can be made without foundational infrastructures, I explore the absence of sewage and make two observations. First, I argue that the dismal state of infrastructure in most parts of Gurgaon is linked to a culture of uncertainty that prevails around the responsibilities of different levels of government, different governmental bodies, and around the designation of urban, rural, and transitional areas. I suggest such pervasive uncertainty has been generative as it has created a policy vacuum, which not only allows private developers to have a free run but it has also produced "a system that is designed to fail" for some and not others. Second, I describe how this uncertainty manifests on the ground. The paper draws on ethnographic research and briefly makes some methodological observations about studying invisible infrastructures that make or break the urban landscape.

Panel WIM-WHF05
Making and remaking the city / Faire et refaire la ville