The Politics of Urban Sustainability

This presentation intersects two parts that focus on how seemingly benign, often well meaning acts of ‘saving mother earth’ can form sites of violence for many: First, we have a set of very grounded accounts of how life works for most people. Abdou Malik Simone writings on Jakarta Phnom Penh, and sites in West Africa highlight the complexity of economy embedded in shifting constellations of groups that blur ethnicity, political alliances, rework land and infrastructure where the ‘broken’ is an intermediate and indeterminate space to turn into something else. Such reworking of urban space in what he terms as ‘popular, and majority’ reveals an important play of ambiguity and provisionality via everyday materialities of touts agents, local politicians forming complex associational lifespace are essential to survival but also to strive for an elsewhere. This connects to two other works. Omar Razzaz in his 1994 classic on the trajectories of the Bani Hassan in controlling land in Yajouz enters these constellations via the realm of legal and institutional pluralism. He too, as many other scholars in viewing law linked society, values the indeterminate, the ambiguous as it opens up spaces to establish claims to make land come alive with political possibility. And in Beirut’s Hayy el-Sellom, Mona Fawaz makes alive the world of Abu Raymond, and how land lives here too, via particular and widely circulated practices around the ‘..special note ’isha¯rah in the official land registry..’ And similar to what we witness in Indian real estate too, as wasıts or intermediaries increase their space, we find how the social field transforms to reflect the political dynamic.

It is these ways, that the second part forms a re-engagement with Ferguson’s 1994 ‘anti-politics machine’, looks at the infamous ‘green laws’ set in motion in Delhi of the mid nineties. These sought to cover up take over of real estate terrain via a jargon of saving delhi from industrial pollution, and more recently in Bangalore and Chennai where a combine of cartographic framing of environmental crises — floods, wetland destruction, are mobilized to mask a form of violent developmentalism, co-funded via bi and multilateral agencies, to also play in participation, soul searching sustainability, and as Henkel & Stirrat 2001, ‘participation as spiritual duty’. While we agree with Holstons’s 2019 pointer to critique of the ‘disappearance of politics’ his emphasis on ‘citizenship, metropolitan rebellions and commoning’ may miss out the more complex spaces and practices that Simone and Razzaz emphasize. And with this, saving mother earth may be a call for more subtle spaces, complex lives and loves beyond the survey and the imposed grid, and surfaced at times via a necessarily noisy and unruly casteless collective and their hip-hop.