(Im)mobility: Movement, confinement and temporality in Colombo
(London School of Economics Political Science)
Paper short abstract:
How are different forms of movement, circulation and flow - or their opposites (confinement, stasis, disconnection) associated with different temporalities and understandings of the future in contemporary cities? This paper examines this question through an ethnography of a market space in Colombo.
Paper long abstract:
What happens when projects of urban development and beautification constrain rather than free urban residents? When the ideals of smooth, frictionless movement and unrestricted mobility are such prevalent aspirational tropes, especially in marketing the urban future, how can we account for the fact that these projects often produce the opposite experience for city-dwellers, especially the urban poor? This paper examines the experience of confinement through an ethnographic account of the Pettah Floating Market, a public space opened in Colombo under the post-conflict government of Mahinda Rajapakse. Through an analysis of vendors' complaints regarding the Market's operations, this study shows that confinement and free movement are both associated with distinct temporalities; global city-making is intimately linked to ideas of temporality and flow. Indian Ocean studies have frequently emphasized historical forms of mobility, exchange and circulation. Contemporary policy-makers often repeat the same tropes in official proclamations about the need to reinvigorate transnational connections, usually in the service of global capital. This paper offers a different perspective for understanding the lived realities of urban development and change in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region, considering confinement and stasis as central to contemporary Colombo life. Temporality can be productively understood as produced by different experiences of movement or stasis.