Tag Archives: India

Subaltern Urbanization: Indian Insights for Urban Theory


Written by:

Partha Mukhopadhyay, Marie‐Hélène Zérah & Eric Denis

June 2020

The concept of subaltern urbanization is about vibrant smaller settlements—outside the metropolitan shadow—sustainably supporting a dispersed pattern of urbanization. We propose a theoretical framework which draws on an empirical research collective using both large statistical and land‐use data sets and detailed case studies in non‐metropolitan Indian geographies. Anchored in postcolonial urban studies, it looks beyond the logic of agglomeration and questions our understanding of settlement hierarchies and the location of social and economic innovation processes, opening up an alternative reading of urbanization that could be valuable for other regions. Local agency is core to this concept, transporting the arguments of the ordinary and the subaltern beyond large cities. Our findings, apart from emphasizing the agency of smaller settlements, highlight their multiple local and translocal flows, shaping an autonomous external engagement that could exist independently of relationships with large cities. Further, even though the rural and the urban seep into each other, they do so organically, unlike the process in planetary urbanization. Additionally, the rural‐urban dichotomy remains performative, in that governance regimes influence the urbanization process. Appreciation of these dynamics can provide insights towards a better understanding of the system of human settlements, which is our goal in advancing this framework.



By Manisha Jain and Artem Korzhenevych in Tijdschrift voor economische en sociale geografie (2018).

India’s increased pace of urbanisation is evident, but the question remains as to whether India can harness its developmental potential by providing social infrastructure to meet its projected growth. This paper investigates the urbanisation trajectory with respect to the provision of social infrastructure in the Capital Region of India. First, it applies the differential urbanisation model and predicts counter‐urbanisation to be the next stage of development. Second, using socio‐economic indicators, the paper finds high literacy rates and non‐agricultural employment in small towns. Third, it explains deconcentration of large cities as an outcome of congested social infrastructure provision. Fourth, it determines that small towns continue to have poor provision of social infrastructure. This paper recommends the integration of spatial planning with social infrastructure planning, the empowerment of lower‐tier authorities for social infrastructure delivery, and measures for raising local government revenue in the region and in similar regions throughout the Global South.

Book Review in urban studies Journal

Subaltern Urbanisation in India: An Introduction
to the Dynamics of Ordinary Town reviewed by Gregory F Randolph (University of Southern California) and Mukta Naik (IHS, Erasmus University Rotterdam) in Urban Studies 1–3 – 2018.

While half the world’s city dwellers reside in small and medium-sized towns (United Nations, 2018), the urban social sciences remain stubbornly focused on the planet’s largest metropolitan areas. Among those studying the North, the global cities literature (Sassen, 2005, 2013) has re-energised the long-standing focus on cities such as London, New York and Paris. Neither has scholarship on the urban South, despite its critiques of urban theories emanating from Northern cities, turned its imagination much
beyond major metropolitan areas. The implicit assumption seems to be that megacities are representative samples of the massive
urban transformation underway across much of the world. The neglect of cities at the other end of the settlement size spectrum is not simply a failure of the academy to study the full universe of urban phenomena. As the evidence in this volume begins to demonstrate, it is actually a failure to grapple with one of the central forces underlying the rapid urbanisation unfolding in the
Global South: widespread rural-to-urban in situ transformations are resulting in the proliferation of small urban settlements.

Rural Transformation in the Post Liberalization Period in Gujarat

by Niti Mehta
Sardar Patel Institute of Economic and Social Research, Ahmedabad, India – 2018 – Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore

The book examines the pattern of non-farm development at the national level and identifies the correlates and determinants of occupational diversification for the major states. It is one of the few studies that unravels the dynamic processes associated with growth and development at the sub-national level; wherein it elucidates changes in rural employment pattern and its implications for urban growth. 
The book fills a crucial gap  in current  research, notably, an understanding of conditions that enable large villages to assume an urban character. By providing micro-level study of census towns to capture the nuances of the dynamic situation in the countryside, the book would offer useful insights and  provide reference material on the social and economic impacts of urban growth, thereby satisfying the needs of students, researchers and practitioners of regional economics, rural development, and sustainable urbanization. 
The book is the outcome of financial support received under the Research Programme Scheme of the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), New Delhi, India.

Understanding Economic Processes in Small Towns


In this interview, Eric Denis, Director of Research at Géographie-cités lab, CNRS, Paris, discusses some of the varied processes characterising small town economics. What kind of economic processes do we see emerging in small towns? We can summarise the multiple and complex economic processes playing out in small towns into four broad types. Locally, these four ideal-types are interlaced with each other: Small towns are incorporated into metropolitan and large cities, Small towns are entrepreneurial, resilient and innovative localities, Small towns are ordinary market towns, Small towns are large villages that expand and grow including a work-force moving away from the farm sector.

Beyond large cities, understanding census towns


By  Kanhu Charan Pradhan
Small towns, those with less than 100,000 population, account for 90 per cent of Indian cities and over 40 per cent of the urban Indian population. Understanding India is necessary to understanding global urbanisation, and this goes beyond the overwhelming attention given to metropolitan and large cities. Scholars at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi, have initiated a series of studies to understand the changing dynamics of small towns in India and their contribution to the process of urbanisation.

Impact of subaltern urbanisation


Coining the term ‘Subaltern Urba­nisation’ can be seen as polemical but it seeks to embody two important strands that shape a common thinking around the potential role of small towns.

First, it attempts to make small places intelligible in contrast to their current level of invisibility in India and at the international level. Second, it tries to think of small towns as sites endowed with some level of autonomy and agency while the dominant paradigm, in particular in the New Economic Geography school of thought, sees small urban spaces as dependent on large metropolitan economies.

Dynamism and Fragility of the Non-metropolitan Development in India. The Kartarpur Example: A Small Cluster-city of Craft Woodworkers

de Bercegol, R., & Gowda, S.

Espaces et sociétés, 2017 (1), 147-170.


Urbanisation in India is usually perceived as the problem of huge metropolises. The focus of this paper is on small conurbations in which specific urban dynamics emerge and contribute also to the current urban transformations. One of them, Kartarpur, is a small cluster-city of craft woodworkers. It shows both the dynamism and the fragility of this non-metropolitan urbanisation. The remarkable expansion of a small furniture industry is linked with endogenous factors rooted in a specific territory, far away from metropolitan development schemes. The analysis shows how a territorial cluster of local craftsmen, putting together their traditional know-how, allowed the creation of a real added-value which is upset by current neo-liberal evolutions.

‘Census Towns’ in India and what it means to be ‘urban’: Competing epistemologies and potential new approaches

Sircar, Srilata


The classification of 2 532 new settlements in the Census of India 2011 as ‘urban’, and specifically as ‘Census Towns’, has brought small and emerging urban centres back into the purview of urban studies and urban development in India. Taking this to be a point of entry, this article seeks to explore how the urban has been framed and approached from different and competing epistemological standpoints in the Indian context. First, it attempts to outline the different epistemologies of the urban in India, which may be seen as competing traditions because of the unequal stakes they have claimed so far in public and policy discourse. Then, it presents two brief case studies of Census Towns from the state of West Bengal to put forth new questions in this regard. The case studies illustrate significant gaps and discrepancies between the lived experience of the urban and its representation in dominant epistemological frameworks such as the official census. I argue that the historical development of various settlement systems, which constitutes the core narrative of urbanization in India, cannot be understood in all its complexity through mere census extracts or aerial images, but requires engagement with rich, embedded epistemologies that have taken shape within these settlements.

Circular Migration and Localized Urbanization in Rural India

Soundarya Iyer

Environment and Urbanization Asia – 8(1) 105–119, 2017

Internal migration is a major driving force for urbanization all over the world and is of concern in Asia due to its rising magnitude. Most studies on internal migration focus on the migrant in the process of migration and a large majority of studies are interested in understanding the conditions of the migrant at the destination for policy concerns. This article makes a case for studying the source of migration and the role that circular migration plays in processes of urbanization at the source of migration. This is particularly important in the context of the growing urbanization away from cities in India. Using the case of a dry land village in northeastern Karnataka, this article attempts to understand the role that circular migration for construction work to cities has in the process of localized urbanization in the village.


N. Sridharan

School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi

Draft paper to download

SHAMA PRASAD MUKHERJEE NATIONAL RURBAN MISSION is not a old wine in a new bottle, if one looks at it deeply. For the first time in India, a spatial planning strategy has been introduced in Rural Development Model with land use and convergence of various programmes and activities. If implemented with earnest interest, this Mission will be a game changer for the country. Lesser time for planning and lesser emphasis on people’s participation may challenge mission’s success than achieving desired integration and convergence. Capacity needs to be built at various levels so as to make this landmark programme a successful one.

Subaltern Urbanisation in India: An Introduction to the Dynamics of Ordinary Towns

Editors: Denis, Eric  & Zérah, Marie-Hélène (Eds.)

2017 – Springer India –  Exploring Urban Change in South Asia

Table of contents

Provides a grounded critical theory of the dominant models of urbanisation, notably the assumed relationship between globalisation and metropolisation.

This volume decentres the view of urbanisation in India from large agglomerations towards smaller urban settlements. It presents the outcomes of original research conducted over three years on subaltern processes of urbanization. The volume is organised in four sections. A first one deals with urbanisation dynamics and systems of cities with chapters on the new census towns, demographic and economic trajectories of cities and employment transformation. The interrelations of land transformation, social and cultural changes form the topic of the “land, society, belonging” section based on ethnographic work in various parts of India (Karnataka, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu). A third section focuses on public policies, governance and urban services with a set of macro-analysis based papers and specific case studies. Understanding the nature of production and innovation in non metropolitan contexts closes this volume. Finally, though focused on India, this research raises larger questions with regard to the study of urbanisation and development worldwide.

Rurban Centres: The New Dimension of Urbanism

By Neha Pranav Kolh & Krishna Kumar Dhote

Procedia Technology, Volume 24, 2016, Pages 1699–1705

Abstract: In recent years urbanization has become synonym to development. Developing countries like India has experienced huge shift in the economy from agrarian base to service oriented employment. Indian cities unlike the western are not planned; they evolve in layers as a testimony to different period. The settlement may be organic, with heterogeneity yet very well reflects the interwoven social fabric. As a result of urbanization the urban sprawl is approaching the rural hinterlands. The line of distinction is fading away between urban and rural. A new type of settlement is emerging which once termed as conurbation by the Scottish planner Patrick Geddes. The area with diffusion of urban and rural activities is termed as RURBAN. These rurban centres are new emerging towns that are governed by rural local bodies, the activities possess in these areas are urban in nature. The paper attempts to develop a understanding of issues and challenges, possibilities and potential and development guidelines for this upcoming new centres of urban growth.