Gendered Urban Imaginaries and Social Change in Delhi’s Urban Villages

by Lucie Bernroider, PhD candidate

Lucie’s PhD research studies the urban fabrics and social change within Delhi’s urban villages. Formerly rural settlements that have been incorporated into city limits in the course of ongoing urban expansion, some of these urban villages have emerged as cultural hubs, where low rents, a high degree of flexibility and resources from localised economies draw a diverse crowd of newcomers to their bustling streets. Cafés, galleries and creative businesses are rapidly transforming these urban villages, attracting a growing number of visitors and new residents, many of them single working women. Female ‘creatives’ and entrepreneurs play a significant role in shaping these increasingly gentrifying spaces and the translocal discourses, in which they are entangled. The study explores how these actors – among them students, artists, designers, photographers and activists – influence the cityscape of Delhi, the spaces they carve out for themselves and the resources and infrastructure they draw on within the broader urban and translocal landscape. These agents form mostly part of growing urban middle-classes placed at the forefront of aspirational images of the ‘Global City’ of Delhi. Recognizing them as creative forces within the city, the research project looks at their urban experience and imaginaries in relation to the transformation of space in urban villages and beyond. These neighbourhoods are at different stages of gentrification, yet are also distinctively shaped by their particular history and location within the city, and remain embroiled in complex contestations among different social groups. Questions of imagined futures, claims on urban space, belongings and citizenship, hence, form central interests of the study. Analysis will attend to the spatialities and temporalities of the city through a careful examination of everyday life, performativity in space, consumption practices and the gendered dimension of spatial practices. Urban villages have garnered limited attention in studies on gentrification and neo-liberal urban restructuring in Delhi, the project therefore aims to contribute to a more encompassing recognition of the multiplicity of global gentrification dynamics and the role of gendered middle classe identities within these processes. This research project further aims to build on our understanding of the gendered and affective geography of Delhi’s cityscape as well as its implication in shifting discourses surrounding such terms as autonomy, danger, private and public. In a time of significant social changes linked to neo-liberal restructuring, research into the way gendered identities and inner city life are negotiated within an increasingly gentrifying and multi-layered space promises further insights into the relations between urban development, cultural discourses and female subjectivities.