Spatial Adhocism as Practice for Conflict Politics: Theorising Urban Politics in Kolkata

Ray, Raktim (2020). Spatial Adhocism as Practice for Conflict Politics: Theorising Urban Politics in Kolkata. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00011589

Abstract

This thesis critically examines how people at the urban margins of Kolkata form various kinds of political relationships with the postcolonial state to exert rights in the city. It considers these relationships as conflict politics and analyses its spatial manifestations through the notion of ‘spatial adhocism’. Spatial adhocism refers to the quasi-permanent state-political society relations for the mobilisation of resources outside legality. The thesis expands upon existing literature to provide new analytical and empirical insights into the discursive socio-spatial subjectivities of postcolonial cities. It does so, by examining how the practices of conflict politics and spatial adhocism are deployed by the postcolonial state and the political society. The thesis also contributes to the understanding of adhoc geographies which exist in postcolonial urbanism.

The empirical evidence underpinning this thesis is collected from three illustrative case studies from Kolkata, namely Loomtex jute mill worker’s movement, Salt Lake anti-eviction movement and Bhangar anti-power-grid movement. Methodologically, this thesis adopts an ethnographic approach, particularly semi-structured interviews, document analysis, participant observation. In terms of comparison, this thesis utilises the experimental comparison method of analysing differential patterns of conflict politics and interconnected trajectories of spatial adhocism. The central findings of the thesis are that the relationships between the state and political society are heterogeneous and that spatial adhocism is omnipresent in postcolonial urbanism. Firstly, the thesis challenges the binary relation of dominance and resistance between the state and the political society and establishes the relation as various forms of engagements. Secondly, it shows that spatial adhocism enables political society to practice various forms of conflict politics with the state to alter hegemonic socio-spatial relations. For the postcolonial state adhoc practices limit conflict politics and help it to maintain an ambiguous relationship with people at the urban margins. This ambiguity serves a two-fold aim. It helps the state to promote capital accumulation in a contingent way, and it also promotes a selective allowance of rights for the people at the margins of the state. Overall the thesis claims that postcolonial urbanism can be theorised through an understanding of the heterogeneity of discursive political practices and their spatial manifestations.

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