Benjamin, Solomon

Research Project
Neighborhood as Factory: Land settlement and politics as a way to think about future city economy

How are we to think about cities of the present with far more extensive influence over economy and politics in the near future? A long term ethnographic study of an intensely industrialized East Delhi may suggest pointers to future cities in India, but also for Chinese ones. At the centre stage is what I term ›Neighborhood as Factory‹, exemplified by the neighborhood called Viswas Nager. As India’s largest cluster of copper wire and cables manufacturing in the mid Nineties, the politicized development of land into a variety of tenure forms shaped an inter-connected economy of mostly small manufacturing and trading firms. Excavating local histories showed how the lens of land tenures allows for a nuanced analysis of the interaction of multiple and conflictual spaces. This politics defies homogenizing categories disciplined by grand narratives that are deployed by either ideological perspective. It also allows for a critical analysis of Master Planning and its associated politics of ›judicial activism‹ lobbied by elite groups. Such an approach emphasizes a central location of human agency – of those assumed to be passive ›subaltern‹. It counters the dominant view of these groups as ›the poor‹, being ghettoized by the complexities of an opaque and fluid local democracy, and marginalized into an ›Informal Sector‹. Instead, these groups are politicized over practices of land settlement and when they access services and basic infrastructure by pressuring various levels of administration. Rather than ›social movements‹ my ethnography emphasizes everyday practices of working the ›Everyday State‹ and what I have termed elsewhere, the ›Porous Bureaucracy‹. At one level, this is a story of East Delhi post its authoritarian situation of the national emergency between 1975-77 as it shaped popular democratization that deeply embedded economy into municipal government. At a broader level, the book is about a way of thinking urban theory beyond the plan, and in ways that historicize ground up politics materialized in the settlement of land and economy.

Selected Publications

Benjamin, S. and B. Raman. 2011. »Claiming Land: Rights, Contestations and the Urban Poor in Globalized times« in M.-H. Zérah, V. Dupont, and S. T. Lama-Rewal (eds.): Urban Policies and the Right to the City in India – Rights, Responsibilities and Citizenship. New Delhi: UNESCO, pp. 63-75.

Benjamin, S. and B. Raman. 2011. Illegible Claims, Legal Titles, and the Worlding of Bangalore. Revue Tiers Monde 206, 2011(2): 37-54.

Benjamin, S. 2010. »Manufacturing Neoliberalism: Lifestyling Indian Urbanity« in S. Banerjee-Guha (ed.): Accumulation by Dispossession: Transformative Cities in the New Global Order. New Delhi: Sage Publications, pp. 92-124.

Benjamin, S. 2008. Occupancy Urbanism: Radicalizing Politics and Economy beyond Policy and Programs. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 32(3): 719-729.

Benjamin, S. 2004. Urban land transformation for pro-poor economies. Geoforum 35 (2): 177-187.