Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Geography, George Washington University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2012
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Geography, Johns Hopkins University
Modernity's Garb(age): A Political Ecology of Municipal Solid Waste in Delhi

Discourses and practices of development have consistently held that urbanization is the key to progress. But the process of urbanization also brings a set of problems, two of which are—an informal sector that perpetually escapes the purview of the state and piling amounts of unmanaged and sometimes, unmanageable, garbage. At the intersection of these two problems of urbanization are waste pickers—those who informally manage the city’s garbage—whose livelihoods are being threatened as the city of Delhi privatizes its waste management services in its aspirations to become a “world-class” and “global” city. The proposed research asks the following broad question: What can the problem of garbage tell us about relations within and between classes, the state and private capital in the process of urbanization in Delhi? More specifically, this research examines: (a) garbage and waste pickers as objects of urban planning; (b) tactics and strategies of private waste firms; (c) middle and upper class desires for a particular kind of urban modernity; and (d) modes of informal sector waste pickers’ organizing. In order to do this, this research will employ the following methods as part of the fieldwork to be conducted between July 2012 and June 2013: (1) Fifty semi-structured interviews with government officials, NGO and development agency personnel and waste firm managers; (2) Participant observation at six Resident Welfare Association (RWA) meetings, one waste picker organization (Safai Sena), and one waste firm (through a four-month long internship); and (3) Household surveys with 120 households in the six neighborhoods where participant observation at RWA meetings will be conducted. The crux of this research is an examination of the stakes involved in the imagination of alternative urban futures not just for Delhi but for other cities that aspire to become “world-class” and “global” as well.