Subaltern frontiers: remediating the postcolonial urban

Authors: Thomas Cowan*,
Topics: Urban Geography
Keywords: postcolonial, land, urbanisation, india
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores how globalised urbanisation is filtered through subaltern actors, spaces and institutions. Drawing on eight years of fieldwork in Gurgaon, once India’s notorious ‘millennium city’, the paper examines how the city’s expanses of globalised real estate and globally-integrated production lines have been mediated through the politics and sociomaterial practices of peasant-agriculturalists, agrarian bureaucrats and unruly migrant labourers. The paper draws on emerging scholarship in subaltern geographies (Jazeel and Legg 2019) and Anna Tsing’s ( 2005) work on ‘frontier rule’ to examine how ‘subaltern frontiers’ - the dispelled and rejected subjects, spaces and practices - play an active role in transferring commonly-owned agricultural land into globally legible property; transforming peasant-farmers into obedient neoliberal subjects; and shaping cheap, exploitable migrant labour that the city depends upon.

In doing so, the paper rethinks the urban through the various ‘frontiers’ of the postcolonial city. Against analyses of subalternity as an object of capital’s desire and determination, an externalised if disruptive element in otherwise secure and clearly worked out political economic systems, the paper explores subalternity as a mode of urban practice through which dominant logics of urbanisation are repurposed, compromised and flexibly worked out with politically uncertain and unwieldy outcomes. A focus on the sociomaterial remediation of the ‘global’ urban imperatives, not only upends smooth metropolitan narratives of globally-determined urban trajectories, but in doing so focuses on the points of vulnerability through which global dispossessory urban forces are obstructed and alternative urban futures produced.

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