Pushpa Arabindoo

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2017/2018
discipline Urban Studies
Lecturer in Geography & Urban Design, Department of Geography, University College London

Research project

Writing the (unknown) city: Ethnographic theorisations of the urban


The objective of this fellowship is to draw some broader critical reflections from my monograph, 'The unknown city: Excavating Chennai from Madras', especially in terms of how this ethnography of one specific Indian city provincialises in a pragmatic way the ‘southern turn’ in the urban studies discourse and its associated project of retheorising the urban.


For this purpose, in the first instance, I will develop the idea of ‘writing the city’ as more than a methodological gesture, one that can be a critical conceptual apparatus in the theorisation of the urban. Thus, contrary to the recent arguments of planetary urbanisation (cf. Brenner and Schmid 2015), I argue that the city is still central to the ideological framings of the urban. In order to explore its epistemological possibilities, I intend to organise an interdisciplinary workshop that brings together international urban studies scholars, encouraging their research to forestall an approach to cities as mere sites of fieldwork. I will invite especially those whose research engages with understudied cities, using instead their ethnographic narratives to frame a normative shift in the practice of theorising the urban. In doing so, I hope to overcome the intellectual barriers erected by a predominantly Anglophone literature in this debate thereby promoting a more genuine transnational production of scholarship.


Secondly, I would like to use a large part of the fellowship period to employ what Da Col and Graeber (2011) refer to as ‘ethnographic theorisation’ in drawing out from my monograph two major thematic constructs with implications for theorising the urban: (i) Theorisation of scale, and (ii) Theorisation of the state. In the case of the former, I suggest that the ‘scale question’ is best addressed through a spatial reimagination of the hinterland reconceptualising as a result the popular logic of peripheral urbanisation. In terms of the latter, my ethnography of urban transformations in Chennai reveal the inadequacy of the analytical lens of neoliberal urbanism, urging thus the need for a better theorisation of the state, especially as we are confronted with a bizarre socio-capitalist logic of an increasingly contradictory state-led developmental agenda.




Pushpa Arabindoo disciplinary grounding is somewhat unconventional, undergraduate degree in architecture, & MS in Urban Design. After a few years in the professional sector of urban design and planning, she enrolled for a PhD in Planning at the Department of Geography, London School of Economics. She is a full-time lecturer in Geography & Urban Design at the Department of Geography, UCL, and a co-director of the UCL Urban Laboratory. In 2012, she was also appointed as an editor at the City Journal.


Given this trajectory, Pushpa Arabindoo takes inter-disciplinarity using discourses from architecture and geography to conceptually and methodologically think through some of the broad concerns within urban studies ranging from informality to ecology in the city.


Selected publications


'Unprecedented natures? An anatomy of the Chennai floods', City, vol. 20, no. 6, 2016, pp. 786-807. 

'Urban design in the realm of urban studies', in M. Carmona (ed.), Urban design primer: Explorations in urban design, Ashgate Publishing, Farnham, 2014, pp. 47-58.

'The calculus of telescopic urbanism', City, vol. 17, no. 4, 2014, pp. 504-509. 

'Bajji on the Beach: Middle-Class Food Practices in Chennai’s New Beach', in C. Mcfarlane, M. Waibel (eds), Urban informalities: reflections on the formal and informal, Ashgate Publishing, Farnham/Burlington, 2012, pp. 67-88.

'Chennai as "cut-out" city', in M. Gandy (ed.), Urban Constellations, Jovis, Berlin, 2011, pp. 119-122.



junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Cognition
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline History
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2012/2013
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Paris Institute for Advanced Study
discipline Anthropology