Pushpa Arabindoo

junior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2017/2018
discipline Urban Studies
Senior 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 ongoing 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.


During this fellowship period, I will employ what Da Col and Graeber (2011) refer to as "ethnographic theorisation" to draw 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 established 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. Secondly, as I develop the monograph on Chennai as a "biography of a conjuncture" (Davis 2006), I will explore the heuristic challenges embedded in "writing the city". Approaching it as a more than methodological gesture, I use this exercise to understand how one can bridge the emerging divide between particularist and planetary modes of theorising, allowing us to extract more sustained global urban analyses. Acknowledging the fact that how you write a city depends on where you write it from (including the language employed), I intend to work with French urban studies scholars to forestall not only the Anglophone dominance in this debate but also to foster a "transurban language of urbanisation" (Simone and Bourdreau 2009). 






Pushpa Arabindoo is a Senior Lecturer in Geography and Urban Design at the Department of Geography at the University College London (UCL), and a Co-Director of the UCL Urban Laboratory (UK). With a background in architecture and urban design, she holds a Ph.D in Planning from the London School of Economics. Her main research interests are focused on 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.


'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.


'Mobilising for Water: Hydro-Politics of Rainwater Harvesting in Chennai', International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development, vol. 3, no. 1, 2011, pp. 106-126.


''City of Sand': Stately re-Imagination of Marina Beach in Chennai', International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, vol. 35, no. 2, 201, pp. 379-401.




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