The Project

The number of city-dwellers in the world is continually growing, especially in developing countries. It is believed that the urban population in Asia will double between 2000 and 2030. Urban research has generally put emphasis on megalopolises: privileged environments for production and concentration of national wealth, innovation and talent, but also for critical societal and environmental problems. Taking note of this research, the World Bank – in its 2009 report Reshaping Economic Geography – states the need to promote town economies.

The SUBURBIN project positions itself in opposition to a vision of urbanisation reduced to metropolitanization and competition between global cities and that tends to consider the urban world only through the prism of very large cities – even though half of the world’s city dwellers do not reside there. It acknowledges the current process of urban transition, but questions the representations and measures of it. With the quick transformation of economies, analytical gaps persist and call for a deeper understanding and renewal of certain important questions: Where do we draw the line between rural and urban, between administrative status and functional reality? How and for what purpose would a rural area become an urban area? What is the relation between the proliferation of small towns and economic processes: are these towns dependent on the metropolitanization process? Could an endogenous growth and forms of specific innovation emerge from these areas? SUBURBIN puts forward the hypothesis of the urbanisation trajectories diversity, which it proposes to understand and qualify, in the case of India, by focusing on small towns, a neglected stratum of the city system.

This research focuses on India, where one out of ten urban citizens in the world already resides. India is the ideal field to shed light on this question because the urbanisation dynamics here seem to diverge from the seminal centre/periphery model, the number of small towns is increasing while migration to big cities is stagnating at a moderate level. Besides, one should also notice that the official recognition of settlements as urban units is restrictive and politically driven.

This project will discuss the relevance of definitions related to the distinction between rural and urban by utilizing geolocalised databases developed in the ANR (National Research Agency in France) Methods and Corpus programme: e-Geopolis (2008-2010).

The research will rest on a double approach: on one hand, economic and social indicators provided by large existing statistic databases will fuel Indiapolis in order to develop a precise and comparative analysis of towns with less than 50,000 inhabitants; on the other hand, field monographs will allow for a qualitative analysis of the observed dynamics;

The SUBURBIN project aims to offer alternative perspectives on “urban transition” from different disciplines, and linking the macro and micro analysis levels. Beyond a scientific aim, it also strives to actively contribute to the debates about the plurality of development models.

SUBURBIN is a joint project of IFP and CSH, under the responsibility of Eric Denis and Marie-Hélène Zérah. It brings together a team of scholars from various disciplinary backgrounds (economics, geography, urban studies and, anthropology). It is based on collaboration with several Indian partner institutions :

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Subaltern Urbanisation in India