Politics of archiving: hawkers and pavement dwellers in Calcutta
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In the last decade, several influential scholars have rigorously worked on the impact of neoliberal globalization on the poor in the cities of the South. But they have yet to provide a comprehensive account of how and why some groups in the margins are seen to successfully negotiate with the new modes of governing populations and increase their visibility as a “category,” while some groups fail to do so. This paper seeks to bridge this research gap by comparing a successful and a failed mobilization in Calcutta. In both cases, use of the footpath has been central. The paper shows how the success of the hawkers in claiming the footpath is tied to the marginalization of the claims of the pavement dwellers that has (a) homogenized the representation of the footpath as only used by pedestrians and hawkers and (b) led to the elision of the pavement dwellers as a governmental category. The paper argues that by arrogating to themselves an archival function—which is conventionally associated with the governmental state—sections of population like the hawkers can become successful in their negotiations with the government.
KeywordsHawkers Pavement dwellers Footpath Democracy Archive Informal economy Governmentaliy
This article is a part of the author’s ongoing PhD Dissertation titled ‘Negotiating Informality: Changing Faces of Footpaths of Kolkata, 1975-2005’. The project is funded by the SYLFF Programme (2006-2009), at Jadavpur University, SYLFF-FMP visiting grant at El Colegio de Mexico (2008), and Fulbright-Nehru Doctoral Fellowship (2009-2010) at University of California, Berkeley. The author is thankful to Samita Sen, Dwaipayan Bhattacharyya, Raka Ray, Ananya Roy, Joyashree Roy, Gautam Bhadra, Sibaji Bandyopadhyay, Partha Chatterjee, Anjan Ghosh, Bodhisattva Kar, Rajarshi Dasgupta, Ritwik Bhattacharya, Shaktiman Ghosh, Sudipta Maitra, Anup Sarkar, Carlos Alba Vega, Ishita Banerjee-Dube, Vinay Gidwani, Solomon Benjamin, Carol Upadhya, Anup Matilal for helping me develop my arguments in several ways. I am especially thankful to the three anonymous reviewers of Dialectical Anthropology and the editorial team for their insightful comments and technical assistance.
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