Varieties of Cosmopolitanism: Subaltern Navigation of Urban Living

Authors: Sanjeev Routray*, Northeastern University
Topics: Urban Geography, Asia, Qualitative Research
Keywords: Cosmopolitanism, Subaltern Navigations, Urban Living
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Marriott Ballroom Salon 3, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The paper develops a conceptual apparatus to understand cosmopolitan self-making by drawing on ethnographic research on a set of contradictory motivations, imaginaries, and practices among the poor in Delhi. The poor share the relations of poverty, precarity, and uncertainty on an everyday basis. The specific vulnerability of the poor emanates from economic relations, and non-economic identities including caste, gender, linguistic, regional, and community affiliations. Furthermore, the legal status of the neighborhoods, the eligibility for welfare goods, and the design of patronage politics divide the poor. So, how is life possible amidst divisions and social cleavages? The paper argues that the poor temper the divisions and navigate the exigencies of life by cultivating a cosmopolitan sensibility. In so doing, the poor forge life, generate affective relations, and cultivate ethical selves by invoking kindness and tolerance for the other. Everyday antagonisms amidst lack of resources (for ex. limited water supply) in spatially dense neighborhoods are assuaged by forging bhai-chara (brotherhood). However, the engineering of ‘subaltern cosmopolitanism’ is also predicated on condescension, bhed-bhav (discrimination), dependencies, and exclusions. In this respect, the paper delineates the varieties of cosmopolitan projects of the poor by considering ethical, instrumental, strategic, and power-laden interventions that both enable and constrain co-existence in the low-income neighborhoods of Delhi.

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