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Through the Lens of an Urban Planner

A.G. Krishna Menon

Edited by Ranvinder Singh Sandhu
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 258, Rs. 330.00


To mark its golden jubilee in 2001, the Indian Sociological Society decided to republish significant papers from its journal, Sociological Bulletin, as a series of seven thematic volumes. Many of the articles selected for publication had become hard to find, and the Society felt that this commemorative gesture would benefit the academic community in the social sciences. Culled from 500 articles, the series represents, according to series editor B.S. Baviskar, “a virtual goldmine of sociological knowledge”.   The book being reviewed is part of that series and deals with urbanization in India. Edited by Ranvinder Singh Sandhu, it consists of thirteen papers by distinguished academics grouped into four sections on Urbanization; Social Stratification: Caste and Class; Neighbourhood and Family; and Slum Dwellers/Migrants in Urban Setting.   I must state, at the outset, that I read the book through the lens of an urban planner. Although the authors probably did not intend to address this perspective, it is a legitimate one: urban planners too deal with urbanization in their efforts to plan better, more livable, cities. Ideally, planners ought to incorporate the knowledge generated by sociologists into their plans. But that seldom happens. Both disciplines appear oblivious to each other even though there is sufficient common ground in the field of urbanization to be profitably explored by both. Urban planners perforce traverse that terrain. They must also be sensitive to social imperatives, so in several projects I have sought the assistance of urban sociologists, but in vain, because such expertise is difficult to find in Indian academia. This is why I was interested to see whether this distillation of sociological knowledge on urbanization could meet the pragmatic ends of urban planning. Are sociologists at all interested in mediating policies and practices of urban planning? My impressions after reading this book are negative on all counts. The chasm between the two disciplines is deep.   This is surprising considering the fact that the first department of sociology in India was established at the University of Bombay in 1920 by Patrick Geddes—who, it is interesting to note, was better known internationally as an urban planner. At the beginning, therefore, Indian sociology had strong links with urban planning. Such links already existed in other parts of the world: in the 1920s E.W. Burgess, Robert Park, et al, were laying the foundation of the Chicago School of Urban Sociology, which had a profound effect on urban studies ...

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