Social Science Baha
The Mahesh Chandra Regmi Lecture 2020
The Urban Turn
4 pm | 20 February 2020 (Thursday) | Hotel Shanker, Lazimpat, Kathmandu
The urban turn of our time begins with agrarian crisis in capitalist economies. The emphasis is now more on logistical services, and making cities the nodes of logical management of economy and sites of greater investment. Consequently, cities are being restructured. Cities are merging, gobbling up suburbs and the countryside, accommodating more and more people. Cities are multi-functional: they are big trading marts; points of large networks of roads and digital connectivity; sites of specialised services; centres of administrative management; and venues of parliamentary politics. And, they are also havens for refugees and migrants.
In terms of urban governance, the reorganised city (always in the process of reorganisation) has a permanent problem posed by the anomalous figure of the migrant, who can neither be dispensed with nor settled. Consequently, the city is not a harmonious entity brimming with the energy of its citizens, but an extremely contentious place marked by people fighting over resources, space, rights, and claims.
This context suggests the methodological need to focus on the figure of an outsider to understand the dynamics of urban growth. The question, of course, may be asked: Why do we need this figure of the outsider to make sense of urban transformation, and for lack of a better phrase, the ‘urban turn’, in our thinking? The urban turn is also connected with a discernible shift in governmental focus. The old welfare state offered only passive support to subjects whereas neoliberal governance has to integrate the restless, workless, urban population in the ‘active’ economy, give them requisite skills, enable them to be competitive, and thus turn them into active urban subjects. Restructuring the economy, politics, and the state – what we know as the agenda of passive revolution – begins with transforming the city. But, possibly, the more fundamental shift comes in our own notion: the city merges into ‘the urban’. Is the city same thing as the urban? What is this urban that has been created as an outcome of the shift? Is it perhaps a displaced site of something else taking place – a change that is neither in the city nor in the village, but somewhere else, perhaps in the form of capitalism and in its disciplining and punishing mode that we now term as ‘urban’?
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Ranabir Samaddar is currently the Distinguished Chair in Migration and Forced Migration Studies, Calcutta Research Group, Kolkata, India. He belongs to the critical school of thinking and is considered as one of the foremost theorists in the field of migration and forced migration studies. His writings on migration, forms of labour, urbanisation, and political struggles have signalled a new turn in post-colonial thinking. Among his influential works is The Marginal Nation: Transborder Migration from Bangladesh to West Bengal (1999). His recent works are Karl Marx and the Postcolonial Age (2018), The Crisis of 1974: Railway Strike and the Rank and File (2016), and Beyond Kolkata: Rajarhat and the Dystopia of Urban Imagination (co-author) (2014).
This is a public lecture and admission is free and open to all. Seating is first-come-first-served. Please direct queries to 4472807.