Claiming space: the new social landscapes of South Asia

Martin Fuchs (Universitat Erfurt)
Assa Doron (Australian National University)
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Short abstract:

Social relationships and access to common goods in South Asia are being renegotiated today via the public realm. The panel looks for new ways to approach and conceptualize these transformations. Special focus is on marginalized groups and the spread of the informal sector, economically and socially.

Long abstract:

Social relationships in South Asia are increasingly negotiated via the public realm, both in urban and rural areas. Control of and access to public resources, spaces and common goods constitutes part of everyday life struggles. Many such struggles are over basic "civic amenities" (e.g., water, electricity), while others concern appropriation of and contestation over lucrative urban land. These developments coincide with state beautifications schemes, and bourgeois environmentalism (Baviskar 2002), involving displacements and the disruption of earlier modes of livelihood. The informal sector is growing, economically, socially and politically. Marginalized groups are constantly forced to resituate themselves, either trying to defend spaces they had occupied earlier or looking out for new spaces and niches to occupy, both physically and symbolically. Scholarship has emphasized both continuities with tradition (the modernity of caste) as well as new unanticipated forms of social and political empowerment amongst the marginalised -"the silent revolution" (Jaffrelot 2003). The challenge of understanding and analysing modern social structures has been taken on by anthropologists with respect to specific fields and issues (anthropologies of the state, of violence, etc.). What we now require is to rethink both the emerging forms of South Asian societies and the concepts we employ to understand those transformations. How do the new forms of public debate and struggle affect identities and subjectivities? How are social groups, actors, and places redefined? How do people on the margins negotiate the modern sectors? What becomes of the "subaltern" in places where traditional forms of domination are increasingly being challenged?

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