Rule by Aesthetics offers a powerful examination of the process
and experience of mass demolition in the world’s second largest city of
Delhi, India. Using Delhi’s millennial effort to become a ‘world-class
city,’ the book shows how aesthetic norms can replace the procedures of
mapping and surveying typically considered necessary to administer
space. This practice of evaluating territory based on its adherence to
aesthetic norms – what Ghertner calls ‘rule by aesthetics’ – allowed the
state in Delhi to intervene in the once ungovernable space of slums,
overcoming its historical reliance on inaccurate maps and statistics.
Slums hence were declared illegal because they looked illegal, an
arrangement that led to the displacement of a million slum residents in
decade of the 21st century.
Drawing on close ethnographic
engagement with the slum residents targeted for removal, as well as the
planners, judges, and politicians who targeted them, the book
demonstrates how easily plans, laws, and democratic procedures can be
subverted once the subjects of democracy are seen as visually out of
place. Slum dwellers’ creative appropriation of dominant aesthetic norms
shows, however, that aesthetic rule does not mark the end of democratic
claims making. Rather, it signals a new relationship between the
mechanism of government and the practice of politics, one in which
struggles for a more inclusive city rely more than ever on urban
aesthetics, in Delhi as in aspiring world-class cities the world over.
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