Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Michael Blim

Committee Members

David Harvey

Ida Susser

Don Mitchell

Subject Categories

Asian Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Urban Studies and Planning


Mumbai, India, South Asia, urban social movements, planning and development, subalternity


This dissertation presents an urban history of Bombay/Mumbai from the perspective of a politics of plurality, arguing that while the city has emerged from governmental control and planning, its development has also been shaped by myriad popular productive forces of urban society. The dissertation traces the uneven development of the city through significant planning policies, popular movements, and lived experiences of various struggles against regimes of developmentalism—the governing ideologies of development, techniques, policies, and rules of law through which the city has been planned and governed. These ideologies and practices have shifted over time, but since the earliest days of Bombay’s urban development, they have marked the space of the city. Colonial and imperial projects were based on planned abandonment and the governance of differentiated vulnerability that was inherently anti-democratic and depoliticizing (even as it used the rhetoric and machinery of democracy). Myriad popular cultures of the city have nonetheless marked the space of city with a variety of political responses to developmentalist projects. This selected history, indeed the often-antagonistic interplay between two histories of the city, allows us to understand that planning has long been a terrain of struggle over not only the city’s development but also the city’s functional democracy. It shows that planning and development are the domains of both state and popular practice, however uneven and divergent those practices are.

Through in-depth ethnography, this dissertation connects the historical investigation of Mumbai’s development to the contemporary politics animating a range of urban movements in recent years that have mobilized working-class and populist visions of the city, its past, and present and possible futures. This dissertation chronicles a five-year popular cycle of struggle to establish a more hopeful vision of the future for the city by responding to, and seeking to reshape, the municipal government’s official twenty-year Development Plan 2014–2034. In the process, a spirited municipalist politics has emerged in Mumbai undergirded by a rupture of those experiences and knowledges that define the dominant regime of urbanization. These politics demonstrate that the prospect for dismantling the anti-democratic forms of developmentalism that plan and govern the city emerges from attempts to forge collectivist and popular urban consciousness.

By tracing this history, the dissertation argues that Mumbai’s contested cultures of planning offer important insights into the heterogeneity and plurality of the city’s futures. In so doing, the dissertation places Mumbai as a significant site for the investigation of the diverse trajectories in which the developmental futures of capital emerge. Finally, the dissertation calls for renewed theorization of the Indian city from the perspective of urban movements—the places of social mobilization, spatial politics, and articulations of social subjectivity and heterogeneity.