Critical assessment of Indian urbanism

My research and writings intend to address the delicate questions about social stratification in urban India. Through my writing, I wish to bring out how we can improve urban planning to address the needs of marginalized communities. The work will present a historical, anthropological perspective to understand the intricate structures and narratives behind the nature of contemporary urbanism. Then the writing will address how the theory and practice of urban planning interact with society and community formation and how to reconfigure it to impact the lives of the non-affluent social groups. The work will also touch upon the question of sustainable development.

I am Nikhil Mathew, and I research urban India in the purview of social anthropology. My dual master’s in sociology and social anthropology focusing on global and urban studies have sharpened my acumen to research socially sensitive issues about urbanism in India. Currently, I am pursuing my graduate study research at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, Kerala, India. My research specifically focuses on critically analyzing the process of urban planning by delving into its theory and practice. The basis of my study is a historical-anthropological inquiry and presentation of archival and anecdotal evidence from secondary literature that shows how human settlements formed in India. Simultaneously, I analyze the contemporary aspects of urbanism by critically studying the theory and practice of urban planning from practitioners’ points. To further support my thesis and arguments, I capture the everyday life of the voiceless downtrodden who occupy these urban spaces.

As a writer, I wish to be known as someone who will address and asseverate critical issues about urban social stratification that hinder social progress and well being of oppressed communities. I will be writing from the point of view of equal rights to a city and public space, reflecting on citizenship and civil society.

My relation with the topic stems from my prior field research engagement where I studied why gated communities exist in small towns in India. In the conclusion of my research, I discovered that affluent classes have a disproportionate share and access to resources. The socio-political nexus between land developers, city administration, and local elites dictate city and town planning trajectory.  Many small cities in India have privatized development, and these private land developers are pooling resources to cater to the need of the privileged. Marginalized communities face the brunt of these development programs are they are evited or displaced. From the point of view of the right to the city, the whole urban development process is undemocratic and needs critical intervention.

The academic audiences I will address in this paper will be those working in the social sciences and urban studies. The non-academic audience I am interested in addressing fits into this juncture. I want to present the paper as an intervention, emanating from the preview of social-anthropology addressing exigent issues with community development and urban planning. Engaging with urban planners, architects, the public, and city policymakers is the only way to achieve a productive, critical, proactive, and change-oriented impact through a change in urban planning theory and practice.

My motivation to write comes from the need for a change maker. I’ve been in academics long enough and knows the banalities of armchair theorization and not be part of proactive change. However, I plan to draft this writing to get the attention of policymakers and practitioners of urban planning so that the underrepresented, marginal, and subalterns also have a voice. Therefore, I will draft my research paper with a rigorous balance between anecdotal stories rooted in post facto ethnographic data and theoretical analysis. Moreover, there are significant gaps in social scientific works that address city and town planning of small towns.

Through this workshop, I wish to gain nuanced skills in finding the right balance between presenting theory, ethnographic data, persuasive and argumentative writing to garner adequate outreach. I hope the worship, the assistance of the mentors, and a fantastic peer group of other writers will provide the intellectual temperament and constructive criticism to make writing better.

Nikhil Mathew

IndiaMahatma Gandhi University