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Unlearning the City

Infrastructure in a New Optical Field

2012
Author:

Swati Chattopadhyay

Unlearning the City

A new way to describe the city—through the lens of popular culture and street life

A nuanced argument for a new vocabulary of the city, Unlearning the City proposes a way of analyzing the materiality of the urban that captures the ever-changing human experience. Swati Chattopadhyay uses the popular culture of Indian cities to question the dominant conception of urban infrastructure and encourage a conceptual realignment in how the city is seen, discussed, and experienced.

Unlearning the City traces the ways in which subaltern groups appropriate, transform, destroy, take over, and change the authorized use and meaning of infrastructure. For Swati Chattopadhyay, the invisibility and inaudibility of subalternity is the result of scholars’ inability to grasp the formal logic of subaltern practices. Her conversations with theory from other latitudes—Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe—enable her powerful vocabulary to travel beyond India.

José Rabasa, author of Tell Me the Story of How I Conquered You: Elsewhere and Ethnosuicide in the Colonial Mesoamerican World

Cities are more than concrete and steel infrastructure. But modern urban theory does not have the language to describe and debate the vital component of urban life that is lived on the streets of cities and towns. Swati Chattopadhyay has written a nuanced argument for a new vocabulary of the city in Unlearning the City, proposing a way of analyzing the materiality of the urban that captures the ever-changing element of human experience.

Urban life is intrinsically messy and usually refuses to conform to the rigid views laid down in much of urban studies theory. Chattopadhyay looks at urban life in India with a fresh perspective that incorporates the everyday and the unstructured. As the first to apply the theories of subalternity for an understanding of urban history, Chattopadhyay provides an in-depth study of vehicular art, street cricket, political wall writing, and religious festivities that links the visual and spatial attributes of these popular cultural forms with the imagination and practices of the city. She contends that these practices have a direct impact on the configuration and knowledge of public space, and the political potential of the people inhabiting cities.

Unlearning the City uses the popular culture of Indian cities to question the dominant conception of urban infrastructure and encourage a conceptual realignment in how the city is seen, discussed, and experienced.

Unlearning the City

Swati Chattopadhyay is associate professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the author of Representing Calcutta: Modernity, Nationalism, and the Colonial Uncanny.

Unlearning the City

Unlearning the City traces the ways in which subaltern groups appropriate, transform, destroy, take over, and change the authorized use and meaning of infrastructure. For Swati Chattopadhyay, the invisibility and inaudibility of subalternity is the result of scholars’ inability to grasp the formal logic of subaltern practices. Her conversations with theory from other latitudes—Africa, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe—enable her powerful vocabulary to travel beyond India.

José Rabasa, author of Tell Me the Story of How I Conquered You: Elsewhere and Ethnosuicide in the Colonial Mesoamerican World

This book produces some of the most insightful intersections between urban, postcolonial, and cultural theories that I have come across. It is also a highly creative challenge to the overemphasis on local politics and social cognition that has become the usual venue to think about the capacities of urban residents to make the city in multiple ways.

Abumaliq Simone, author of City Life from Jakarta to Dakar: Movements at the Crossroads

Unlearning the City weaves together theory, observations on recent events, and popular culture to urge a reframing of infastructure.

Journal of Architectural Education

Chattopadhyay provides a detailed and nuanced view of the potential for a more broad-based and culturally embedded form of urban resistance—one that challenges the pervasive homogeneity of global culture and in so doing generates an optimism seldom provided by the more thoroughgoing critiques of globalization.

Buildings & Landscapes

Unlearning the City

Contents

Preface: Unlearning the City
Analytic Index

1. Flows and Bumpy Roads
2. The Optical Field
3. Provincial Cosmopolitanism
4. Armature and Experience
5. Writing on the Walls
6. Auto-mobility
7. Fungible Geographies

Conclusion: Infra-Structure

Acknowledgments
Notes
Index