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Book description

In urban and peri-urban areas across the Global South, politicians, planners and developers are engaged in a voracious scramble to refashion land for global real estate investment, and transfer state power to private sector actors. Much of this development has taken place on the outskirts of the traditional metropoles, in the territorially flexible urban frontier. At the forefront of these processes in India, is Gurgaon, a privately developed metropolis on the south-western hinterlands of New Delhi, that has long been touted as India's flagship neoliberal city. Subaltern Frontiers tells a story of India's remarkable urban transformation by examining the politics of land and labour that have shaped the city of Gurgaon. The book examines how the country's flagship post-liberalisation urban project has been shaped and filtered through agrarian and subaltern histories, logics, and subjects. In doing so, the book explores how the production of globalised property and labour in contemporary urban India is filtered through colonial instruments of land governance, living histories of uneven agrarian development, material geographies of labour migration, and the worldly aspirations of peasant-agriculturalists.


‘In Subaltern Frontiers, Tom Cowan skillfully explores agrarian and subaltern processes that continue to remake the shifting geographies India’s flagship private city of Gurgaon. Through theoretically-informed, politically-committed, grounded research unafraid to take on real-world and scholarly shibboleths, Cowan shows how subaltern processes, labors, actors, forms of imagination and political struggles continue to animate the urban frontier. This book is a model of excellence in Geography and Urban Studies.’

Sharad Chari - University of California at Berkeley

‘In this rich and ethnographically grounded study of peripheral urbanization in India, Tom Cowan offers a compelling account of how sedimented relations of land and labour suture the urban and agrarian worlds, in contingent yet forceful ways. Through the analytic of subalternity as a processual relation, Subaltern Frontiers traces the careful compromises and contestations that make the city of Gurgaon possible and makes a valuable contribution to our understanding of agrarian urbanism. It is a brilliant and clearly written book that will be of interest to scholars of urbanization, comparative urbanism, labour geographies, and urban theory.’

Shubhra Gururani - York University

‘Subaltern Frontiers is a superb, sometimes surprising, and often moving analysis of agrarian transformations in Gurgaon, an iconic peri-urban frontier of Delhi. Eschewing tired developmentalist scripts of urban modernity and its impediments, Cowan instead underscores how agrarian and working-class actors and spaces subtend the material and imaginative possibilities of this new urban India. He shows how heterogenous agrarian worlds, encompassing land, property, and working frontiers, enable as well as thwart the designs and desires of state and capital, unsettling hegemonic trajectories of city-making and accumulation. Theoretically luminous, ethnographically plush, and vividly narrated, Subaltern Frontiers provides singular insights into the under-noticed geographies and cultural politics of agrarian urbanization. It is a surpassing contribution to the fields of agrarian and urban studies.’

Vinay Gidwani - University of Minnesota

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