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The reporter, the flâneur, and the critic: The urbanist as outsider in the South Asian mega-city

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The reporter, the flâneur, and the critic: The urbanist as outsider in the South Asian mega-city


New Delhi, Mumbai, Bombay, urbanism, urbanisme, urbanist, urbaniste, mégapole, sociologie urbaine, Asie, Asia, Inde, India, culture urbaine, flâneur, Hogan Trevor


Abstract from the distributor:
‘No urbanism without urbanists’ might be a slogan that captures the European and North American urban experience over the past two centuries. Indeed, it is arguable that urbanism is not only an empirical description of material cultures of cities but is also a creative act of the inscriptions on the cities by writers themselves – from Ruskin, Baudelaire, and Geddes to Benjamin, Mumford and Hall, and from the Chicago School to Jacobs, Sennett and Davis. But where, when and who are the Asian urbanists? And is this question too late in an era of globalised megacities? Can we still write the city? Are they not too big, fast, splintered and complex to be encapsulated textually in their totality? Are we witnessing instead in the Asian-Pacific Century, urbanisms without urbanists?

This paper looks at four contemporary urbanists and their writings on two key megacities of India – New Delhi and Mumbai, two megacities whose forms and lives are crucial to the next phase of India’s emergence as a global power. They are difficult cities in every sense – complex, explosive, dangerous, fluid and creative - and therefore ideal sites for understanding 21st century forms of urbanisms. Here I choose writers who are outsiders to the cities they write about: they are migrants and expatriates, but who also work from the margins of the social sciences of the academy. I attend to their authorship and their social and institutional settings; this in turn invites reflection on readerships, but more importantly about the types of authorship available to, and developed by, urbanists over the past two hundred years. The paper shifts to the texts themselves and reflects about forms of writing (genre, style, and rhetoric) as much as to what they have come to say about their cities. The paper concludes with some reflections on their arguments for a critical understanding of the contemporary South Asia mega-city by suggesting that indeed there is no urbanism without urbanists and this is so in Asian cities of the 21st century no less.
Trevor Hogan commenced a 3-month appointment as a Visiting Senior Research Fellow in the Asian Urbanisms Cluster with effect from 27 December 2010. He teaches in Social Sciences, La Trobe University. He is the Director, Philippines-Australia Studies Centre, and Deputy-Director, Thesis Eleven Centre for Cultural Sociology.


Trevor Hogan


8 March 2011