Rule by Aesthetics: World-Class City Making in Delhi

Rule by Aesthetics: World-Class City Making in Delhi

Rule by Aesthetics: World-Class City Making in Delhi

Rule by Aesthetics: World-Class City Making in Delhi

Synopsis

Rule by Aesthetics offers a powerful examination of the process and experience of mass demolition in the world's second largest city of Delhi, India. Using Delhi's millennial effort to become a "world-class city," the book shows how aesthetic norms can replace the procedures of mapping and surveying typically considered necessary to administer space. This practice of evaluating territory based on its adherence to aesthetic norms - what Ghertner calls "rule by aesthetics" - allowed the state in Delhi to intervene in the once ungovernable space of slums, overcoming its historical reliance on inaccurate maps and statistics. Slums hence were declared illegal because they looked illegal, an arrangement that led to the displacement of a million slum residents in the first decade of the 21st century. Drawing on close ethnographic engagement with the slum residents targeted for removal, as well as the planners, judges, and politicians who targeted them, the book demonstrates how easily plans, laws, and democratic procedures can be subverted once the subjects of democracy are seen as visually out of place. Slum dwellers' creative appropriation of dominant aesthetic norms shows, however, that aesthetic rule does not mark the end of democratic claims making. Rather, it signals a new relationship between the mechanism of government and the practice of politics, one in which struggles for a more inclusive city rely more than ever on urban aesthetics, in Delhi as in aspiring world-class cities the world over.

Excerpt

More than a billion people live in squatter settlements today, a population that global development institutions nervously project could triple in size by 2050. Scholars have interpreted this future “planet of slums” as “the growth of a population outside state control.” Using the case of Delhi, the world’s second largest city, my aim in this book is to challenge conceptions of the Third World megacity that emphasize a lack of state control and spatial discipline. Instead, I focus on how the management of slums there forces us to rethink the epistemological foundation of government—that is, to rethink how it is that a state knows and directs its object.

Slums, squatter settlements, or jhuggī jhoṁpḍī (shanty) colonies, as they are called in Delhi, are often considered “informal” for the fact that they lie beyond the realm of state authorized maps, plans, and statutes. Their presumed ungovernability or unruliness, experts suggest, stems from the absence of cartographic and statistical simplifications of their territory. In this book, I trace how the production of an aesthetic normativity replaced maps and statistics as the key mechanism of rule in millennial Delhi. Specifically, I show that Delhi’s attempt to transform itself into a world-class city—represented most vividly by the construction of seventy new shopping malls, the fivefold increase in land prices, and the displacement of a million slum dwellers in the first decade of the twenty-first century —is occurring not solely through a legal redefinition of property or an economic calculus of cost-benefit, as most accounts of globalized urbanization suggest. Rather, it also requires the dissemination of a compelling vision of the future—what I call a world-class aesthetic—and the cultivation of a viewing public that takes part in that very vision—the making of world-class . . .

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