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I am extremely thankful to all the forum participants for allowing me to read Streets in Motion in different ways which, as an author, I had not done before. Since all three reviews offer a critique of the motion-obstruction dialectic of the capitalist urban process, I shall restrict my response to this dialectical sensibility. Pati reads motion and obstruction in terms of power and resistance. She also asks a very important question: “If Bandyopadhyay’s dialectics of ‘motion’ and ‘obstruction’ stands for capital’s mobility and people’s resistance respectively, how do we understand moments in our political history when this dialectical framing is reversed?” Ghosh, on the other hand, reminds us that “Bandyopadhyay does not use obstruction as shorthand for popular resistance; taking a more sophisticated approach he offers a genealogy of how state and non-state actors alike were engaged in the work of creating impasse.” Sircar takes us through the historiography of Subaltern Studies and locates the genealogy of the dialectic in the works of Guha and Arnold. In this response, I shall try to elaborate what I deliberately kept sublime in the narrative.
Following Guha (1997), I propose a theoretical universe that contains a universal dyad and a set of two historically specific dyads. The general dyad of motion and obstruction is necessary, logical, universal, and abstract. It operates in every social system. Each of the constituents of the universal dyad have two constituting elements. Motion (in its modular form) works via a dialectic of consent and force (Gramsci defines hegemony as a dialectic of consent and coercion—a state in which consent overpowers coercion even though consent must be guarded by coercion for its effectiveness). The hegemony of motion is bound to be incomplete. The obstruction, on the other hand, is essentially a ‘critique position’ which studies motion as a ‘thesis’, analyses its conditions of possibility, and tracks its limits: what are the terms that are set by motion, what can and cannot be said from the confines of its grammar, etc.
In any given situation, motion and obstruction will not mutually equalize one another. Hence, there is no equilibrium. An assumption of equilibrium is an assumption of perfect (fully realized) hegemony — a false assumption. The presence of coercion is the reason of disequilibrium. Dialectics is perhaps another name for disequilibrium (Bandyopadhyay, 2023).
In each historical context, obstruction can offer a limited dissent or acquire philosophical coherence and material force to overcome motion. The constituent dyads are context-specific, and their mutual weightage (“organic composition”) depends on the operation of strategic forces, such as intersectional solidarities among social groups against hegemonic forces in each historical context (Chatterjee, 2022). This dialectical universe thus incorporates the very real possibilities of divergent political outcomes given the organic composition of the elements in the historically contingent dyads (Chatterjee, 2022). It also accommodates the fact that obstruction’s critique of motion is immanent in the context of the overwhelming hegemony of the latter. However, obstruction acquires durability only when the participants can develop a consistent world outlook challenging motion’s hegemony — one we encounter in Chapter V with the emergence of the footpath hawkers’ discourse of counter-pedestrianism.
Some more illustrations of the motion-obstruction dialectic from the book may be cited in this context. Take the example of Jabardakhal or forcible and collective encroachment on public and private property by the Hindu refugees in the 1950s. It was a double-edged sword. It was a combination of what I called ‘encroachment-as-class’ and ‘encroachment-as-community’. As encroachment-as-class, it snatched property from the wealthy owners and the state, leading to the fragmentation of capital sunk in land. As a result, the connection between urbanization and capital accumulation, as we found in the interwar era at the behest of the Improvement Trust, collapsed for many years in the post-colonial metropolis in connection with a fledging competitive electoral politics. If motion refers to capital’s expanded self-reproduction, then, jabardakhal was a durable obstruction. On the other hand, as encroachment-as-community, jabardakhal dispossessed and displaced petty Muslim property owners, becoming an electrifying agent of Hinduization of the urban space. It activated a form of spatial mobilization that enabled ghettos to manifest as zones of containment.
Pati asks a very significant question in this context: What could be majoritarianism’s relationship with ‘motion’ and, by extension, capital? I conceptualized the answer in the book as follows: Ghettoization via urban planning, communal riots, and jabardakhal was part of urban motion. At the same time, ghettos appeared as obstructions to the ‘normal’ communalized rhythms of the city. Yet, ghettos, too, have their own motion of life and labour, conditioned by the latent and active violence of the city. Obstruction has its own praxis of motion. People’s movements are all about real and everyday motion and mobility. For many of my friends in these ghettos, the ghetto is their home, their lifeworld, filled with passion and emotion derived from struggle and suffering of being Muslim in today’s India. Motion becomes the aspiration of all, and it is through such a bid to universality that it can aspire toward hegemony. In the interplay of motion and obstruction, the ghetto becomes a unity of opposites and houses an immanent contradiction which asserts itself “in the antithetical phases” of the city’s metamorphoses. The urban historical materialist must grasp the on-ground and contingent relationship between unity and contradiction: when and how the conjuncture of difference is set in, when and how difference turns into conflicts, and when and how the conflict gets resolved “either by creating new differences or by sliding slowly into indifference” (Lefebvre, 2016: 42).
There is a difference between 'motion' as ideology and 'motion' as practice. Motion is the ideology of capital and the capitalist state. Just like the idea of the 'economic man' or the ideal of the individual liberating herself from the fetters of tradition, unreason, etc. Obstruction is the dialectical challenge to the ideology of motion. It has its own praxis of motion. Just as the revolutionary economic man, who stands up to capitalist exploitation, is nevertheless the 'economic man'. People's movements are all about real everyday motion and mobility. We must see how each of these movements engage with the 'ideology of motion', an ideology that (performing the function of any ideology in the Marxian sense) legitimizes a system of domination by masking contradictions. Indeed, motion becomes the aspiration of all, and it is through such a bid to universality that it can aspire towards a hegemony.
Let me conclude by referring to a common misunderstanding about the motion-obstruction dialectic. There is no reason to believe that motion is always and invariably a force from above (capital and state) and that obstructions are movements from below. Consider the instance of the lockdown during the pandemic — an obstruction enforced from above by the nation-states (see the Epilogue of Streets in Motion). Lockdown was primarily to preserve the normative order of motion. In other words, it was an obstruction from above in service of motion. In India, the lockdown entailed an act of unimaginable movement of migrant workers across the country, leading to the absolute breakdown of lockdown as a policy to immobilize. During the lockdown, motion appeared as delinquency. But the mass in motion, too, was an obstruction—obstructing the operation of power, obstructing the technology of incarceration. Motion is never motion for all. This kind of defiant motion exposes that contradiction. It exposes the obstructive undergirding of the ideology of motion.
Bandyopadhyay, R (2022) Streets in Motion: The Making of Infrastructure, Property, and Political Culture in Twentieth-century Calcutta. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bandyopadhyay, R (2023) A Gramscian reading of Oli Mould's Seven Ethics Against Capitalism. Dialogues in Human Geography. Online First: 1-4:
Chatterjee, P (2022) Struggles for Hegemony Have not Ceased. Res Pública. Revista de Historia de las Ideas Políticas. 25 (3): 321-327.
Guha, R (1997) Dominance without Hegemony: History and Power in Colonial India. Harvard University Press.
Lefebvre, H (2016) Marxist Thought and the City. trans. Robert Bononno. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Ritajyoti Bandyopadhyay teaches History and Political Economy at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Mohali, India. He works on the trajectories of capitalist accumulation and urbanization in twentieth century Calcutta, economic informality, postcolonial statecraft and its relationship with knowledge, social policy, rent and tenancy relations in South Asian cities, and mass political formation under popular sovereignty and neoliberalism. He is the author of Streets in Motion: The Making of Infrastructure, Property and Political Culture in Twentieth-century Calcutta, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022. Bandyopadhyay divides his time between academics and activism and uses one context to ask questions of another.