Dr. Sushmita Pati (Fellow, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru)

Between ‘Ownership’ and ‘Belongingness’: Uneven Terrains of Capital and Community Relationships in Urban Delhi

1 August 2019 – 31 December 2019

Conceptualised at the intersections of questions of political economy and contemporary urban politics, this work seeks to understand the ways in which both of them constitute and inform each other. During my time at ICAS between 1st August to 31st December 2019, I would be working on my book manuscript tentatively titled Between Ownership and Belongingness: Uneven Terrains of Capital and Community Relationships in Urban Delhi which interrogates this relationship through the transformation of the city of Delhi in conjunction with the transformation of a rural-agrarian community- the Jats since the 1950s. Post-independence, as Delhi needed to expand, agricultural lands of these villages were acquired in order to make what we know as South Delhi today, but the residential lands of the villages were retained untouched. Designated as ‘urban villages’ thereafter, they have been integrated into the city in ways that are neither neat nor systematic. The manuscript looks at how this specific form of urban villages evolves through a complex negotiation between the caste and kinship networks and political economic transformations. It allows for the creation of not only a specific urban form but also a vernacular form of political economic relations and transactions.

While tracing overlaps between capital and community, this book project also intends to trace overlaps between rural and urban, between the global and local forms of capitalism, between human subjectivities and forces of capital.  Built around intergenerational narratives around investments, aspirations, interpersonal jealousies, negotiations with the state, moments of solidarity, rumours and such, I try to show how accumulation is embedded within social and cultural practices. Economic rent that constitutes the basis of this vernacular form of capitalism, I argue stems from the social composition of the villages in general and the Jats in particular. Without privileging one over the other, it is meant to be as much about the micro processes as about broad theoretical explanations. I am invested in laying out the complex picture of the everydayness of social processes as it is in finding patterns for understanding phenomena like capitalism and urbanism.

Through this book, I would attempt to understand rent’s social history through a narrative of two urban villages in Delhi. I locate rent in both the literature of political economy and the way it operates in an embodied sense. Rent, in the villages that I look at, is not just an abstract political economic concept but a way of life. In doing this, these two senses may not always map onto each other, but reveal a conversation, a tension that is productive. I understand rent as it operates in the lives of these villages and its inhabitants, and their changing social relations. If rent is essentially about control over resources, then control functions and gets organised in diverse ways in  society that is inherently unequal. And in doing this, I show how rent operates in the world of global capital, without getting appropriated by capital. It circulates within the logic of ‘money’ as opposed to that of ‘finance’. ‘Finance’ moves ahead by multiplying and dispersing control and ownership, but ‘money’ ensures that control, that ownership that is essential to rent does not become anonymised. Through an ethnographic study of these two villages I show that the relationship between capital and rent is a tenuous one. They mutually sustain each other, but at the same time, continue to remain strange bedfellows.

In one way, this way of understanding rent, shows how value is produced in a way that plugs into the world of global capital, but also how a society goes on to reproduce itself and individuals begin to find their own actions as meaningful. These two kinds of values get produced by rent. And therefore embedded in the world of global capital-both by accommodation and friction. It mimics and taps into the world of capital, but in its own curious ways. And yet, rent of this kind, refuses its appropriation in the world of global capital. Global capital would loosen up the community’s ownership of the resource of land and property. If the rural community has to survive in the city, along with its culture, its own ways of making sense of the world, rent becomes essential in holding on to that identity and that is essentially rooted in control. They are home in the world of global capital, but then again, not quite.

These villages, in my work are therefore are spaces that define how globalisation, forces of capital are adapted, transformed and made into something that is purely local. And in this, we see how erstwhile villagers, who were agrarian-pastoralist community transforms itself in order to be able to respond to the changing political economy. We see affects of anger, hurt, jealousies, nostalgia get negotiated through the changing economic relationships. I try to locate how an economy based on ownership of land and housing, organizes itself and organizes hierarchies, values, violence all very differently from how capital does.

Bio:

Sushmita Pati received her doctorate degree in political science from Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in 2017. Her research interest lies at the intersection of urban politics and urban political economy. She has been teaching in the School of Development and the School of Policy and Governance, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru since 2017. She has also taught in St. Stephen’s College and Ramjas College in Delhi University. Some of her published works have appeared in journals like Economic and Political Weekly and Contributions to Indian Sociology.

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