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Vernacular Urbanism

Sovereignty as a Political Sentiment
August 3, 2020
August 5, 2020

Report on the project “Vernacular Urbanism. Social Segregation and economic development in middle India”


Collected Material

I carried out intensive ethnographic fieldwork in three selected neighborhoods in the city. The first was an older well-established area that had started as a slum area and had gradually been upgraded to a mainly legalized lower middle class/blue collar area. The second was a newer and more socially mixed area of that comprised lower middle-class colonies of independent houses, as well as one of the biggest and most volatile slums in the city. The third area was less than twenty years old and was settled by Muslim families that had fled violence in Aurangabad’s old city in the nineties, as well as many recent migrants from the countryside, mostly Hindus. I selected these areas because they were of different age and reflected the various stages of the city’s growth. They were all socially mixed, both in economic terms and in terms of religion and caste – a pattern that had become increasingly rare across the city since the long and bloody conflicts between Hindus and Muslims in the 1980s and 90s. I lived in one of these areas, and visited the other areas on an almost daily basis for months on end, meeting a wide cross section of individuals and families in each of the localities.

I had hundreds of informal and repeated conversations with people from all walks of life and communities in these areas – shop keepers, ordinary residents, caretakers of local shrines and temples, policemen, local social workers and activists, and local elected representatives to the City council and other public fora. Some of these interactions turned into formal and recorded interviews, others remained at the level of everyday informal chats and banter. In addition to these regular interactions, I managed to identify fifteen households in each area that were willing to do longer and in-depth interviews, lasting from one to three hours.

I collected more than a hundred longer interviews (115) most of which (95) have been translated and transcribed, a material running into almost 2000 pages alone.

The survey covered 750 households who were asked 25 questions covering their family and migration history, the employment status, details about income, their house/dwelling, as well as more evaluative questions about their neighborhood/area. This survey is still being coded and analyzed and I expect to access the coded material in a few weeks.

Finally, I have collected more than 3000 newspaper clippings, as well as a very substantial number of shots/copies of official documents from the city administration (planning documents, regulations, circulars, etc.) as well as a considerable amount of ‘grey’ material – pamphlets, flyers, adverts, etc. – collected in the course of my fieldwork from local organizations and individuals. This material includes complete lists of voters’ rolls in the three neighborhoods I worked in (numbers range from 7,000 in the smallest to 15,000 individuals in the largest) that will allow for a rather fine-grained analysis of caste and community composition of these areas based on an estimation of names.


Preliminary Results

While I am not yet in a position to offer any comprehensive analysis of this rather large and diverse material, my preliminary conclusions are that economic development and increased availability of credit, jobs and educational opportunities in the city has led to deeper and more systematic residential segregation, and segregation of educational institutions and employment categories/economic sectors than was the case in the 1980s. These lines run along lines of religion (Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists), as well as lines of caste and social class. The explanation is relatively straightforward: (1) as more resources became available to the segments of the more privileged sections of the Hindu population, these communities moved to upscale neighborhoods inhabited by upper or middle caste communities. (2) The sustained presence and electoral success of militant majoritarian Hindu nationalist parties in the city has led to many attacks and threats against Muslims and lower caste minorities. These groups have sought ‘safety in numbers’ by moving to, or staying in areas dominated by their own community. These patterns conform with similar trends reported by scholars and observers from other provincial cities across India.

Publication Plans

At this point, I have written a paper on how historical memory and monuments across the city have become sites of competing, and at times antagonistic, celebrations and active remembrance of very divergent pasts among Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists in the city. The paper is included in an edited volume on Indian democracy edited by a colleague in India. The expected publication date is March 2019.

I took over as Chair of the Department of Anthropology on 9/1/2018. This will slow down my analysis and publication rate quite substantially in the short term. My plan is to publish a number of articles in professional journals devoted to urban studies, urban ethnography and anthropology. In the slightly longer perspective I am planning to retrieve, re-interpret and rewrite my older material (collected in 1990/91) and merge this material with my recent data into a longer book manuscript that demonstrates in empirical detail, and with comparative examples that the growth and social dynamics of provincial cities in India (and possibly elsewhere) are shaped primarily by an amplification of regional histories and social conflicts, rather than by the global forces of investment or industrial location, as is often suggested in the literature on the urbanizations across the global South.