The four major metropolitan cities in India, Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta and Chennai, have a paradigmatic place in the literature on urban life in the entire region. Large cities like Bangalore and Ahmedabad are scantily studied as urban spaces, and so are Lahore, Karachi and Kathmandu. Other major urban spaces, such as Dhaka or Colombo, or Lucknow and Kanpur are hardly studied in their contemporary form. However, the biggest absence in the scholarly understanding of urban South Asia is the massive landscape of hundreds of provincial cities, many of them exceeding 500.000 people. Most of these cities have emerged in the past few decades from being minor towns, local railway hubs and minor industrial centers.
The seminar will be devoted to explore two larger questions: (1) what spatial, political and cultural imaginings and designs define the public life of provincial cities? Does the metropolitan areas in the region provide hegemonic models or do we see attempts to define aesthetics, symbolsandurbaninstitutionsthatreflectspecificregional histories? (2) As urban centers grow and diversify in terms of communities of caste, language and religion what are the relations between ‘community’ as an ethical and practical structure, and the commercialization of public life, increasingly mediated by access to capital, land and coveted private sector jobs? Is the older proverbial contradiction between capital and community giving way to a new (and yet old) ‘caste capitalism’ where caste and community are the most important forces shaping and enabling mobility and accumulation of wealth in urban spaces across South Asia?
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