TM1 International Seminar at CSSSC

The City as a Site of the Political:

Themes in Urban History, Infrastructure and Culture

Kolkata (Centre for the Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta & GHIL and ICAS:MP)

15-17 December 2016

This International Seminar intended to explore and identify critical themes in the understanding of urbanism. These include the effects of changing notions of the political on the city, as well as the impact of processes of politicisation or de-politicisation on various aspects of everyday urban life and administration. It also focused on the city as an Archive of the Political, and on the ‘Metamorphoses of the Political’ in the city archive – a concern that is drawn from the long standing work the CSSSC has undertaken in archiving domains of urban experience in Kolkata and Eastern India.

In addition to four panels, there were two Key Note Lecturers by Sujata Patel (Hyderabad) and Prashant Kidambi (Leicester), as well as a Round Table Discussion. On the second day, the Exhibition on Archival Collections was inaugurated. On the last day, CSSSC organised an impressive field visit “Walking the City”.


Programme       Photos         Seminar Brochure         Keynote Lectures

the team of organisers (Profs. Lakshmi Subramanian, Tapati Guha Tharkurta and Andreas Gestrich)

seminar participants at CSSSC  (Lake Terrace 10)

Concept Note 

This seminar is a crucial part of the inter-modular activities organised under the broader ICAS project of the ‘Metamorphoses of the Political’. There, the underlying focus is on understanding the political in the context of shifting boundaries, historically contingent contexts and intellectual lineages of the idea of the political. With this perspective on the changing semantics of the political in the urban context, the workshop draws its cue from the more critical interventions that have characterised scholarship in various recent fields of research such as space and place making, on consumption, infrastructure and urban planning, environment politics as well as on archiving urban processes. Its temporal frame is the long twentieth century and after, a choice which helps situate the high colonial context of urbanism and of spatial restructuring and transformation that accompanied colonial policy on the one hand and reflect on urbanism in an increasingly globalising world on the other.

The specific focus on the city as a site of the political derives its rationale from two considerations. One is to do with the processes of (de-) politicisation of certain aspects of urban function and administration and everyday life in the city over the long twentieth century. The other is to reflect on the challenges and limits of archiving such processes that work into and from the metamorphoses of the political.

The seminar stretched over two days and was intended to invite suggestions and discussions from experts on the field, from India and abroad. It invited select speakers and organised two general discussion panels at the end of each day. The first featured a panel discussion on the CSSSC archives and exhibition, which was mounted during the workshop and a second one that focused on the Kolkata Improvement Trust (KIT)

The workshop focused on discussions on the following themes (for details see Programme above):

  1. Imagining the Political: Visual and Literary Representations of making and inhabiting the Colonial City.
  2. Infrastructure, Public Health and Sanitation as contested areas of urban politics.
  3. Urban real estate and politics of development
  4. The politicisation of consumption
  5. Archiving the Metamorphoses of the Political in the city.
  6. Walking the City: archives and architecture