The Habitus of Agglomeration: Crowding and (Non) Compliance in an Indian City

Karen Coelho & Mathangi Krishnamurthy

Introduction: Crowds and the City

Distancing, isolation and the thinning out of public spaces in Indian cities have offered up new pastoral landscapes of delight for the urban dweller—clean air, summer blooms, wind- swept highways and assorted wildlife crossing streets.1 The quiet that has overtaken our cities is being celebrated as a gift of the pandemic. Fuel-saving work-from-home arrangements, cost-saving virtual meetings and spare modes of social gathering are analyzed as offering new, mellower possibilities of urban inhabitation that may save us from both the looming pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis.2

Yet before we celebrate the oncoming new normal, it is important to recognise what it puts at stake. Agglomeration, density and crowds have long been definitional attributes of the urban. Capitalist urbanisation is premised on the scale economies that urban agglomeration offers. But a long tradition of critical scholarship, from Engels, Wirth and Childe3 to contemporary urban scholars,4 has probed the problematic of urban density as more complex, productive and political than quantitative definitions convey. Not all city densities mean the same thing; they must be interrogated in light of the specific meanings they embody in different geographies at different times. Crowds always mean differently, so to speak. For example, everyday crowding in local trains, markets, informal settlements or labor camps are specific yet common events in which “adjustments”5 and negotiations allow for both inclusions and exclusions in that moment, whereas more exceptional forms of crowd, such as the mob, the riot or disaster-induced massings, can be symptoms through which to read concealed tendencies that lurk beneath the everyday social.

As close-knit, dynamic constellations of “intensive heterogeneities,”6 both human and more-than-human, cities offer ideal grounds for the spread of a virus. But they also facilitate other kinds of diffusions. Both in theory and reality, these mixings have rendered the urban the site of transformation and mobility, allowing the dissolution, remoulding or strategic deployment of seemingly given and ascriptive identities such as race, caste and gender, to forge new subjectivities, claim public resources, take risks and assert rights. In the case of women in the city, for example, as Phadke put it, “Because the streets are complex mazes of people and objects and … because the energies of the city public spaces are dispersed confusingly and unpredictably, it is actually possible for women to imagine loitering.”7 In her understanding, such loitering allows for women to make tenuous but promising connections of their own, safe from identification, lost as they can be in the chaos of the city. In these and other accounts, it is the unpredictability, provisionality and possibility contained in the agglomeration of motley actors that makes for the “cityness” of crowds.

Inside the congested working-class neighborhoods and informal settlements of Indian cities, dense and diverse interactions build a scaffolding of survival, however precarious, which anchors livelihoods and a sense of be- longing for marginalised urban residents. The working of “people as infrastructure”8 entails ongoing daily arbitrations with unfriendly and friendly bodies9—strangers, migrants, stray dogs and landlords. These proximities and exchanges tend to knit into structures of support and security, rewriting the possibilities of ur- ban space for vulnerable populations.

Figure 1. A street junction in Mumbai, March 2020. Photo credit: Rahulnath S.R.

The Culpability of Crowds in the Pandemic City

The pandemic has stigmatised social density, raising again the spectre of “bad densities”10 and the tropes of overcrowding, slums, contagion and disorder that have dogged the figure of the city from Dickens to Davis.11 The world watched with awe and some dread as the pandemic unfolded in India: How would its crowded megacities with their large home- less, street-dwelling or informally housed ur- ban populations succeed in implementing the fast-emerging panacea of social distancing?12 Norms of “social distancing” have been embraced with an almost visceral sense of com- fort by the global urban privileged classes, even as they seemed impossible to implement in India.13 Here, it is important to also remember that in India’s caste society, social mixing has always unsettled sections of the urban middle classes (and upper castes): “Part of the problem of multiple bodies in public space is about the possibilities it creates for the mixing of ought-to-be-unmixable bodies—across caste, class or religion; the anxiety of bodies that ought to be unfriendly, becoming friendly or worse, intimate.”14

Figure 2. A sidewalk sticker in Pune City. Photo credit: Yashoda Joshi.

By early May 2020, as infection numbers rose steeply in Chennai and COVID-19 hot spots mapped neatly onto the densely populated northern zones of the city, congestion was singled out as a major culprit in the spread of the disease. Crowds, long seen by the state as the threatening “other,”15 have assumed new shades of stigma in pandemic times. Whether in food markets, transport hubs or mosques, crowds index irresponsible behaviour, threats to the health of the national body and portents of a common price that will be paid by the entire nation.

The ongoing lockdown of Indian cities has been covered in multiple press accounts as one of the strictest in the world. Stringent in the early months (April and May 2020) and selectively enforced, regulated and relaxed since then, the lockdown has seen spontaneous episodic outbreaks of social congregation and of crowds large and small. Across these past few months, agglomerations have dissolved only partially and reluctantly; the lack of public compliance with distancing norms continue to be highlighted by media; and police are regularly deployed to break up gatherings, disperse crowds and enforce distancing in shopping queues by drawing lines and circles outside stores. Despite all this, collectives catalysed by panic, hunger, anger and the urge to celebrate repeatedly emerged.

If all this suggests a recidivism to the crowd in the city or the irrepressibility of ur- ban social agglomeration, how can we—as two anthropologists based in the South Indian city of Chennai—explain this? How do we understand crowds and the clustering of bodies in this moment?

We argue that “urban agglomeration,” a crucial concept in urban development policy, materializes here not as a planned economic strategy but as an intuitive response to the unfolding conditions and  structures of urban life, in short as habitus. To Mauss and Bourdieu,16 habitus refers to a set of collective embodied tendencies, ways of acting as it were, absorbed or learned through and via social structure, which then show up in bodily comportment and collective behaviour. Wacquant described habitus as “the way society becomes deposited in persons in the form of lasting dispositions, or trained capacities and structured propensities to think, feel and act in determinant ways, which then guide them.”17

Our article explore how the habitus of agglomeration is produced in and by the city. What is it about the Indian city that moves bodies to gather into a crowd? How do these forces and dispositions continue to be activated in pandemic times? We focus on three catalysts of crowding shaped by specific conditions of urbanism, which in turn produce distinct types of agglomerations: the scarcity- induced crowd, the protesting crowd and the ritual-marking or celebrating crowd. We go on to show how these forms of agglomeration were repeatedly triggered by the governance of the pandemic in India. At the centre of our narrative lies the figure of the migrant urban worker that has been dramatically forced into public view by India’s management of the pandemic, sharply illuminating the character of its dominant urbanism.

Figure 3. Police with migrant workers at Chennai’s Central Railway Station. May 2020. Photo credit: Anantha Sayanan.

Three Catalysts of Urban Crowding

Agglomerations are produced by specific modes of everyday sociality and by locally determined habits of bodily contact and distancing. Tropes of the Indian social body highlight a habitus of agglomeration—bodies press in close in queues, personal space norms are minimal, men hang with their arms around each other’s shoulders and women move as subunits of a larger whole. These cultural essentialisms mask how the urban habitus of agglomeration is shaped by a political economy of distributions of space, land and housing, work and wages, services and amenities, legitimacy and recognition.

A key trigger of crowding in the Indian ur- ban landscape is chronic (induced) scarcity, which gets reflected in a repertoire of urban bodily techniques such as the jostle, the push and the rush to reach the counter before the rations or tickets run out. Inhabiting the Indian city means learning to anticipate and participate in the crush of bodies trying to enter trains and buses, to cling to and hang from their doorways as they speed along, to find your feet in their crammed interiors.

The derogated densities of “slums” are also expressions of structural scarcity. Slums, the problem zones of pandemic management in Indian  cities, had drones hovering over them to monitor compliance with stay-at-home orders. But the meanings and boundaries of home are distinctive in these spaces. In the congested lanes of Chennai’s informal settlements and even in some of its slum resettlement colonies, where housing units are as small as 160 square feet, everyday life unfolds in spillover spaces outside the home. Social reproduction often transpires on the street—washing utensils and clothes, cooking and even sleeping. In the resettlement colony of Perumbakkam outside Chennai, the liminalities of these spaces and the exchanges they afforded allowed for the emergence of women as networking nodes, liaising with volunteer groups in the city to channel assistance to households rendered particularly vulnerable or destitute by the lockdown. Densities here, then, operated infrastructurally in the sense that Simone described,18 creating an intersecting matrix of relations that transformed a state-built housing colony into a neighbourhood.19

The crowd of protest is another paradigmatically urban assembly. The city forms the staging ground for spectacular expressions of discontent from far afield, as when nearly 100,000 farmers from across India converged in New Delhi in November 2018 to demand better prices for farm products. In another instance, Coelho20 showed how collective representations and protests are routine features of Chennai’s water provisioning landscape. The roadblock, or mariyal, assembles quickly in times of water stress and is a powerful spur to government action. Women from informal settlements in Chennai invariably presented their complaints about the water supply at the local municipal water depot in groups. This banding together not only was intended to intimidate but also built confidence to assert their case. The trope of the “huddled masses” is thus subverted by the confrontational crowd.

Ritual or celebratory gatherings—the temple thiruvizha (festival) or the funeral procession, with dancing, beating of drums and scattering of flowers—regularly take over city streets, sidelining traffic and claiming public space for the public assertion of particular community affects. This urban disposition for ritual public performance can been read as heterotopia, subverting the usual experiences of time and space,21 as carnival, providing a temporary respite from the disenchantment of the world,22 or as an increasingly public mode of contestation particular to religious identity politics.

Figure 4. Life on the streets in a Resettlement Colony in Chennai. Photo credit: Karen Coelho.

For the purpose of this article, the ways in which all these public gatherings produce a bodily learned inhabitation of the city is important. The body in the city, we argue, is habituated—indeed, gravitates toward these paradigmatic forms of crowd. Protesting bodies can be witnessed only in a crowd; celebrating bodies create and thrive in the energy of a crowd; and loitering bodies crowd together as competing antennae for opportunities in a precarious political and economic milieu characterized by unequal distributions of work, space and lei- sure. Crowds and crowding thus find their way into habits, skills and dispositions ingrained into urban bodies as tools for the good life.

Pandemic-Induced Crowding

If scarcity, protest/solidarity and ritual/celebration are catalysing conditions for crowds, the governance of the pandemic has powerfully triggered each of these conditions, particularly through a lockdown that has been characterised as the largest and most stringent in the world.

On March 19, 2020, as the virus count was rising in the country and several state governments had announced partial lockdowns, Prime Minister Modi used a televised address to order a day-long national “janata (people’s) curfew” to be observed on March 22. People were asked to come out on their balconies at 5 p.m. to clap their hands, bang vessels or blow whistles as expressions of gratitude to frontline workers and health personnel battling the infection. Large crowds, including millions of urban middle-class apartment dwellers, rallied in response, spilling out from balconies and into streets, in many cases jettisoning social distancing norms. The PM’s second national address, on April 3, led to celebratory crowds erupting again in some areas, bursting firecrackers on the streets. These ritual enactments of national oneness and public participation in governance, key ingredients of Modi’s enduringly successful populism, have resonated with large sections of the new urban middle classes.

But scarcity-produced and panic-induced agglomerations also sprang up everywhere, repeatedly, over the course of the lockdown. On April 25, the State of Tamil Nadu announced a four-day intensive “lockdown- within-lockdown” to control the rising curve of the disease. The panic-buying rush at markets that immediately ensued seemed to cancel all the potential benefits of the measure. In May, Chennai’s wholesale vegetable market, Koyambedu, emerged as the new CO- VID flashpoint, sending trails of infection across the state via truckers, loaders and vendors that daily converged there from agrarian production centers spread across several surrounding districts. City authorities had failed to anticipate and provide for the congregations inevitable in a large metropolitan market that generates livelihoods for a far-flung catchment of cultivators, traders and manual workers.

Yet  the most pronounced effect of  India’s lockdown (and perhaps its enduring legacy) is the dramatic explosion into public visibility of hundreds of thousands of interstate migrant workers trapped in its large cities, a mass precariat hitherto hidden inside the urban machinery. The term “circular migration” has gained currency to describe the movement of workers23 from the villages and towns of some of India’s poorer states (e.g., Jharkhand, Orissa and Bihar) to work in the large cities and industrial towns of its more prosperous states (e.g., Delhi, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu). The term indexes the relatively short-term and often (though not always) seasonal journeying of these workers between their home villages and work cities, and their permanent sense of having their “feet in both places.”24

Over the past three decades, this vast corpus of mobile workers has come to constitute the indispensable foundation of the country’s liberalised urban economy, accounting for the bulk of the manufacturing and service workforce in construction, factories, restaurants, hotels, salons, housekeeping and security. Unregistered and contracted under a variety of informal arrangements, they receive lower wages than local workers and enjoy no labour rights. The vast majority are single men, typically contracted in teams of tens or hundreds from particular states and districts, who have left wives and children back in the villages and live in squalid, poorly serviced rented rooms in city slums, often packed eight or 10 to a room or in makeshift sheds on construction sites or industrial premises. To members of their host societies, from government officials, employers and landlords to the wider urban public, these workers appear as a particular kind of mass “other,” linguistically and ethnically distinct, a ubiquitous but barely acknowledged alien underclass.

The nationwide  lockdown, announced by PM Modi with four hours’ notice, had entirely ignored the vast presence of these workers in cities across the country. Within days, migrant workers were spilling en masse into the streets of every city, hungry, jobless, abandoned by employers and contractors and desperate to return to their families. Their undocumented status made them ineligible for the relief packages that states were handing out to their registered working-class families. Across Indian cities, it was left to groups of civil society volunteers to find ways to assist them with food, cash and in some cases shelter.25

Crowds in protest soon appeared. As the lockdown continued and their appeals for transport to get them to their homes went entirely unheeded, workers began to break out of the cities, gathering in angry crowds at train and bus stations, where they were aggressively subdued by the local police. As thousands took to the highways on foot, the national media came alive with images of the mass exodus of workers from cities, trudging hundreds of miles toward their villages. Many were stranded at state borders that they were not permitted to cross. These journeys were streaked with tragedy, as some travellers died of hunger and exhaustion, and others were run over by trucks on the highway.26 As the third phase of the lockdown wound to a close by early May, national and state governments began negotiations to allow special trains to transport workers to their homes across states. However, as a partial opening of industries and establishments had also been permitted at this time, employers panicked at the prospect of losing their cheap workforce. Powerful corporations in some states prevailed on governments to cancel the special trains. Soon, the fierce  yearning of the urban worker for his rural home had sparked crowds everywhere—protesting at industrial campuses; converging at train stations; and walking, in the hundreds and thousands, on highways across the country in the searing summer heat. These crowds, we propose, index a fundamental breakdown not only of the lockdown but of the larger urban compact of individual material and social mobility toward a better future.

Figure 5. Migrant workers walk from Chennai to their villages, hundreds of kilometres away, May 2020. Photo credit: Nityanand Jayaraman.

Figure 6. Migrant workers walk on highways outside Chennai May 2020. Photo credit: Anantha Sayanan.


The postcolonial city is a layered and complex formation, constantly adjusting and improvising, continuously plugging into networks neither imagined nor acknowledged by theoretical accounts of the ideal city. This urban is a force field of densely packed physical and bodily formations, where bodies are oriented toward crowding not just as a matter of routine but as the constitutive material of life. Scarcity-induced crowding, protesting crowds and celebrating crowds are, in other words, everyday manifestations of the diverse urbanisms of Indian cities. The pandemic and the lockdown have brought agglomerations and densities into focus as key problematics of urbanism. This article pushes for a recognition of the provenances, possibilities and politics of these forms of bodily congregation in the city. Governments in India, both national and state, have invoked the Disaster Management Act 2005 and the Epidemic Diseases Act 1897 to assume extraordinary  powers of control over the movements and freedoms of people in the name of disease control. Yet the fundamentally personal nature of the conduct they seek to control  (i.e., the movement of bodies and the distance between them) implies a heavy reliance on public compliance. “Compliance” has emerged as a keyword of pandemic management in India.27 On May 8, nearly two months into the national lockdown in India, a newspaper reported a study conducted by a team of researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, which used mobility data mapped from Facebook users to assert that Chennai, Tamil Nadu’s prime metropolis, was the least compliant with lockdown orders.28 The demand for compliance with often shifting, opaque or arbitrary directives emanating from a newly authoritarian state system reveals a misrecognition of the postcolonial urban public. In an uncanny shadowing of the word “comply,” which derives from the Italian complire and from the Spanish cumplir, (to complete), calls for lockdown in Indian cities mimic the Italian and Spanish lockdowns, and their invocations of the well-ordered and retreating European city. The social milieu of such a city   is governed by an unspoken social contract that temporarily puts in abeyance civil society and its conflicts and critiques, seeking in its stead a civic-sensed urban public. What does such a future city look like?29

The language of the postpandemic city yet to come refers to clusters, hot spots, containment and isolation, intended at producing a city free of crowding, protesting, pulsating bodies and populated instead with compliant and disease-free individuals. This misrecognition can be upheld only by regimes  of violent authoritarianism, the evidence for which rises with each passing day. Even as the governance of the pandemic has starkly highlighted the state’s refusal to recognise the citizenship of the urban worker, the figure of the migrant worker and, indeed, of the urban poor is visible only to the city in and as a crowd.

The pandemic and the lockdown have sharply exposed the fault lines of urban labour value chains, which enable and valorise individualised work-from-home arrangements and virtual socialities at the narrow apex of the system while treating the mass presence of the physical labouring body as a problem to be contained and controlled. As Indian cities slowly open up, a perverted normal is unfolding, wherein private vehicle and taxis with limited occupancy are permitted but safe mass transport arrangements, which constitute the economic and social lifeline of cities, are still a distant prospect.

The work of “habitus” in this article is to take seriously the phenomena of crowds and acts of crowding as dispositions of otherwise invisible urban bodies, dispositions that push for an even more necessary visibility in the extraordinary conditions of a pandemic. It urges a postpandemic rethinking of the city that resists retiring into a closeted isolation that only the privileged can afford.


  1. Navroz K. Dubash,  “Imagining a Different, Better Future,” Hindustan Times, March 26, 2020, Columns, https://www.hindustantimes. com/columns/imagining-a-different-better-future/ story-qsW5taLdtLflAK5YZhaVMI.html, and “The Urban Wild: Animals Take to the Streets Amid Lockdown—in Pictures,” The Guaridan, April 22, 2020, World, world/gallery/2020/apr/22/animals-roaming- streets-coronavirus-lockdown-photos.
  2. See, for example, Sujatha Byravan and Sudhir Chella Rajan, “A Time for Planetary Solidarity,” The Hindu, April 23, 2020, Opinion, https://www. solidarity/article31409776.ece
  3. Friedrich Engels, The Housing Question (New York: International Publishers, 1935); Louis Wirth, “Urbanism as a Way of Life,” American Journal of Sociology 44, no. 1 (July 1938): 1–24; and V. Gordon Childe, “The  Urban Revolution,” The Town Planning Review 21, no. 1 (April 1950): 3–17.
  4. Colin McFarlane, “The Geographies of Urban Density: Topology, Politics  and the City,” Progress in Human Geography 40, no. 5 (October 2016): 629–48. https://doi. org/10.1177/0309132515608694; and Vyjayanthi Rao, “Proximate Distances: The Phenomenology of Density in Mumbai,” Built Environment 33, no. 2 (2007): 227–48.
  5. Rao, “Proximate Distances.”
  6. McFarlane, “Geographies of Urban Density.”
  7. Shilpa Phadke, “Unfriendly Bodies,  Hostile Cities: Reflections on Loitering and Gendered Public Space,” Economic and Political Weekly,  Vol XLVIII No 39, Sep 28, 2013, 50-59. p. 55.
  8. AbdouMaliq Simone, “People as Infrastructure: Intersecting Fragments in Johannesburg,” Public Culture 16, no. 3 (2004): 407–29.
  9. Phadke 2013.
  10. McFarlane, “Geographies of Urban Density.”
  11. Mike Davis, Planet of Slums (New York: Verso, 2005).
  12. In a podcast conversation with one of the authors in early April, Berlin-based photographer Emeka Okereke reflected that social distancing in Berlin merely amplified a preexisting (white) European tendency to individuation, such that  the one thing people did on announcement of the lockdown was to hoard. Having visited Chennai before, he wondered how it might even be imaginable for a city such as Chennai to manage a lockdown.
  13. The term “social distancing,” borrowing from, among others, Edward Hall’s 1963 work on proxemics or the use of space in personal communication, has been soundly critiqued for its racial and gendered assumptions about access to technology, safe space, surety of income, freedom from domestic abuse and the availability of physical space. In India, the term has been critiqued for its affiliation with caste practices of untouchability, segregation and the cordon sanitaire against polluting lower castes. See caste/social-distancing-coronavirus-caste-ambed- kar. Many have suggested “physical distancing” as an alternative term.
  14. Phadke, “Unfriendly Bodies, Hostile Cities: Reflections on Loitering and Gendered Public Space,” 53.
  15. Pushpa Arabindoo, “‘City of Sand’: Stately Re‐Imagination of Marina Beach in Chennai,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 35, no. 2 (2011): 379–401.
  16. Marcel Mauss, “Techniques of the Body,” Economy & Society, 2, no. 1 (1973): 70–88; and Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (Librairie Droz S.A., 1972; Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1977).
  17. L. Wacquant, “Habitus,” in International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology, ed. J. Becket and Z. Milan (London: Routledge, 2005), 316.
  18. Simone, “People as Infrastructure.”
  19. Hugo Gorringe’s account of place-making inside a housing estate for municipal sweepers in Madurai similarly showed how a settlement that figured as a squalid ghetto was turned into a hub for the formation and assertion of a Dalit political identity, a stronghold of the political party Dalit Panthers of India (DPI), and a “defended neighbourhood.” Hugo Gorringe, “‘Establishing Terri- tory’: The Spatial Bases and Practices of the DPI,” in The Meaning of the Local: Politics of Place in Urban India, ed. Geert de Neve and Henrike Donner (London: Routledge, 2007).
  20. Karen Coelho, “Tapping In: Leaky Sovereignties and Engineered (Dis)Order in an Urban Water System,” in SARAI READER 06: Turbulence, ed. Monica Narula et al. (Delhi: Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, 2006), 497–509.
  21. Michel Foucault and Jay Miskowiec, “Of Other Spaces,” Diacritics 16, no. 1 (1986): 22–27.
  22. P. Stallybrass and A. White, The Politics and Poetics of Transgression (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986).
  23. Swathi Shivanand, “‘Feet in Both Places’: Affective Spaces of Circular Migration,” Urbanisation 4, no. 2 (2019): 1–15; India’s Census 2011 showed that 17.6 million workers had migrated in the previous year, and 63.9 million between 1 and 4 years prior to the census.
  24. Shivanand, “‘Feet in Both Places.’”
  25. One of the authors was part of such a group in Chennai and obtained a vantage point on the workers’ living conditions from the end of a phone line. The workers presented before us as a collective, one person calling to request assistance on behalf of a group of between six and 20 young men. Accordingly, we transferred funds to a single bank account that would enable the group to jointly purchase groceries and cook meals.
  26. “Auraiya UP Accident: 24 Migrant Labourers Dead, 22 Injured After Two Trucks Collide; Workers Were Travelling to Bihar, Jharkhand, Bengal,” Firstpost, May 16, 2020, https://www.firstpost. com/india/auraiya-up-accident-24-migrant-la- bourers-dead-22-injured-after-two-trucks-col- lide-workers-were-travelling-to-bihar-jharkhand- bengal-8373561.html; “Coronavirus Lockdown: Eight Migrant Workers Killed in Madhya Pradesh Road Accidents,” The Hindu, May 16, 2020, states/coronavirus-lockdown-eight-migrant-work- ers-killed-in-madhya-pradesh-road-accidents/ar- ticle31603252.ece; and “Karnataka Migrant Dies of ‘Starvation’ on Way Home,” The Times of India, April 9, 2020, city/hubballi/cm-regrets-workers-death-on-trek- home-from-bengaluru/articleshow/75056751.cms.
  27. Raymond Williams, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (New York: Routledge, 1976). Williams demonstrated how a focus on the etymology and evolution of words might yield new meanings and more capable tools in reframing  the  ideological  battles  of  the times.
  28. “Lockdown Compliance in Chennai  Least  in Tamil Nadu: IIT Study,” The Economic Times, May 8, 2020, https://economictimes.indiatimes. com/news/politics-and-nation/lockdown-compliance-in-chennai-least-in-tamil-nadu-iit-study/ar- ticleshow/75616833.cms?from=mdr.
  29. Gautam Bhan et al., “The Pandemic, Southern Urbanisms and Collective Life,” Society+ Space, August 3, 2020, Essays, In a recent reflection that carries strong resonances  with  this piece, Bhan et al. hold “collective  life” as the constitutive condition of the Southern urban, wherein cities of the global south are inhabited in self-built (or “auto-constructed”) modes, supported by infrastructures of informal inter- dependencies and tacit networks. Any workable approach to pandemic governance here, they aver, would need to focus not on homes, offices and firms but on streets, markets, com- munity kitchens and neighbourhood support spaces.



Karen Coelho is an associate professor at the Madras Institute of Development Studies in Chennai, India. She received her Ph.D. in sociocultural anthropology from the University of Arizona at Tucson (2004). Her research includes critical examinations of urban infrastructure projects (including housing and resettlement schemes), informal settlements and urban ecologies. She has written and published articles on the politics of eco-restoration of rivers, canals and tanks in Chennai. She coedited the book Participolis: Consent and Contention in Neoliberal Urban India (2013, Routledge India). She serves on the editorial advisory board of the Review of Urban Affairs of the Economic and Political Weekly of India.

Mathangi Krishnamurthy is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Madras. Her research areas of interest include the anthropology of work, biopolitics, gender and sexuality studies and urban studies. Her book 1-800-Worlds: The Making of the Indian Call Centre Economy (Oxford University Press, 2018) chronicles the labour practices, life-worlds and media atmospheres of Indian call-centre workers.

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