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Structures of City Life

Deepak Mehta

Edited by Sujata Patel and Kushal Deb
Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2006, pp. x 486, Rs. 595.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 9 September 2007

Urban Studies, part of a series of books on readings in sociology and social anthropology, is a diverse compendium of articles that shed light on the structures of city life in India, on urban cultures and experiences of the city, on politics and economics signalled by the term urban, on inequalities and hierarchies situated in urban spaces, but also produced by them. The chief value of the text lies in making available in one volume scholarly work that is dispersed across various disciplinary arenas. In this sense it does not attempt to break new ground but is a statement of achieved work in ‘urban studies’. It will be of inestimable help to students and teachers. My problem lies not with individual articles, nor with the selection of the editors, but with the classificatory scheme under which the volume is organized. The text is divided into four broad areas: the contemporary urban process; the Indian metropolis; urban space, politics and collective action; and urban culture. Each of these areas is explored through five articles that make arguments from specific disciplinary points of view. In this way the intention is to signal that read together each of these areas can be understood through an interdisciplinary lens, but nowhere is the groundwork for such a perspective (except in a general way in the introduction) made, either as method or as substantial fact. One would expect that in a volume such as this the aim would be to establish the scope, rather than set limits of the object of study. In my opinion, the range of understandings implied by the term urban would have become coherent if the editors had elaborated on rather than introduced the interconnections between the various articles.   The introduction by Sujata Patel is a substantial statement of contemporary trends in urban research. In Patel’s formulation, five themes describe the urban—the structure and form of urban inequalities; the relation of global cities to globalization; the relation of urban culture to modernity and postmodernity; the link between the state, urbanization and urban social movements; characteristics of the urban and urbanization in the South. The introduction focuses on this last theme by looking at uneven development, information, social movements and collective action and culture within what is called the urban. As far as urban studies in India are concerned, the introduction discusses colonial and contemporary urbanization, state policies and urban politics, ...

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