Urban and Urbanization

Experiments in peripheral urbanization: Building and unbuilding commons in urban India

Peripheral urbanization is the predominant mode of producing space in the Global South, in which residents build their own homes and neighborhoods, becoming citizens and political agents in the process. In this article, I bring feminist ethnographic attention to community infrastructure such as childcare centers built collectively by women residents in MGR Nagar, an informal urban settlement in Chennai, India, as understudied examples of autoconstruction in peripheral urbanization. Marxist feminism enables a theorization of these infrastructures of social reproduction as urban commons that assert collective spatial autonomy and enable moral claims on urban space, while serving the everyday needs of its residents. The subsequent demolition of the childcare center caused symbolic and material loss to residents. However, the ceding of territorial autonomy and spatial privileges was a way for them to make new material and political gains in the city, suggesting that a feminist politics of space is possible in which legitimacy and responsibility are demanded from the state. The commons in turn can be seen as durable countertopographies enabling a politics of place in multiple locations.

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Volume 41 Issue 1

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