In recent years, there have been several attempts to understand the transformation of contemporary urban environments in India. It is now widely recognised across spheres as diverse as academic social science, urban planning and architecture, social work and activism, and the arts and cultural practices that there has been a conceptual vacuum in understanding the city in India since Independence. The estrangement of both urban scholars and practitioners from their object of understanding remains acute. Recently, new practices grouped as urban research or emerging urbanisms have renewed the call for new methodological inquiries to understand the changing urban conditions. For the past few years, CRIT members have been involved in intensive field studies. Our varied projects have demonstrated the conceptual vacuum in understanding the practices through which the city is inhabited. Most studies of cities in India have either been narrowly empirical, with a bias towards problem solving, or they have overly generalised conditions into universal categories of colonial, industrial or global cities. Descriptions of Mumbai display astonishing numbers and statistics to represent urban conditions as “crises” requiring urgent intervention – the problem of housing, the crisis of congestion, the collapse of infrastructure, etc. Similar has been the abstract use of unitary concepts by academics such as functional urban region, mosaic of culture, melting pot of communities, metaphor of modernity, network of interest, contested terrain, native metropolis, and global city. While these concepts are inadequate for capturing changed conditions, they become dangerous in formulations such as world class city, Slumbay, encroached public spaces, deteriorating environment, make Mumbai Shanghai, mee Mumbaikar etc. Such concepts guide interventions which respond to generalised conditions, repressing the various ways of understanding and inhabiting the urban environment. Further, these empiricisms and generalisations fall flat in complex conditions of multiple tenancies, interstitial spaces, mixed land uses, informal commerce, and the tactical negotiations of the street, which characterise the contemporary metropolis.
This initiative of CRIT has been towards developing fresh theoretical languages to analyse and critique the concepts, practices and formations of the emerging urban conditions in India. CRIT members intend to continue this initiative through collaborative research projects, exhibitions, discussions and publication series.
Mumbai in the 90s: An Archive of Urban Interventions, Image City: Formal & Informal Networks, ‘Images of Asia’, Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2003
This exhibition was an experiment to map the interventions in the city. The exhibit was a two screen audiovisual that showed a series of advertisements, photographs, newspaper articles, drawings, maps etc. The attempt here was to bring out layers of knowledge that otherwise gets flattened with empirically produced maps and statistics.
Metrolog(ue): Discussions on Emerging Urban Conditions: A Workshop Collaborated and Supported by Sarai, CSDS (December 2006)
The workshop brought together a varied set of practitioners and academics towards discussing the emerging urban conditions. There were 6 areas of discussion dealing with issues of emerging urban morphology, politics of occupancy (land & tenure), new civil society organizations, fringe areas of the metropolis, new entrepreneurships and emerging archiving practices. The workshop also included a series of field visits preceding the discussions.