Mushahid Hussain: Translating Modernity – Planning Practice, Urban Informality and Place-making at the Edge of Dhaka City

In regions like greater Dhaka, the rural-urban link today cannot but be treated as the complex continuum of relationships that it actually represents. Consequently, it is difficult yet necessary to identify the interface which retains the fact of the distinction between the “rural” and the “urban”, the changes and continuities they represent, without collapsing their forms. The rural-urban interface is therefore a methodological vantage point from where I ask – why is such a place logically necessary, and for whom? How is such a place being made historically, and by whom? This interface is of course both metaphorical and real, symbolic and material, a field site from which the ethnographic present across various spatial scales articulate the temporal rhythms, meanings and contestations through which different social actors interact in practice. My research is not methodologically concerned with evaluating against specific imaginations and models of the urban-form actual and potential transitions to some planned city that is more environmentally sustainable, socially just and so on, even though such quintessentially “developmental” outcomes are desirable on numerous grounds. Rather, it aims to discern specific everyday practices of different social actors as they translate the complexities of imagining, experiencing and enacting places in a present where urban futures have not yet arrived, and rural pasts are not quite forgotten. The “rural-urban interface” therefore attempts to encapsulate analytically these generative moments of translation. In this paper, I mainly draw on excerpts from a recent conversation with an urban architect/planner conducted as part of my ongoing fieldwork. The objective is to attempt a preliminary illustration of how respective practices of social actors like planners, among many others, translate the rural-urban interface as a lived place beset with contradictions and possibilities.

Mushahid Hussain

Mushahid Hussain is a PhD student in Development Sociology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. His current research explores everyday practices and idioms of meaning that make places, developmental plans, political platforms and markets at the fringes of an urbanizing region in central Bangladesh. This confluence provides a point of departure for tracing historically the processes of state-making, global economic reintegration, socio-ecological transformations and cultural shifts characterizing critical aspects of a political economy of development in South Asia.


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