Project Gallery

Property & Citizenship in Slums

My ongoing book project looks at what the United Nations has famously called the “challenge of slums” for urban governments. However, I approach the challenge, which will increasingly mark global cities in the 21st century, from the perspective of slum-dwellers themselves to ask: how do marginalized urban residents negotiate political concessions from the very same political and democratic institutions that obstruct their access to full citizenship? Further, what does the persistence of slum spaces, despite decades of slum clearance or upgradation, say about the distribution of socio-economic rights in the city? I answer these questions by focusing on the citizenship of slum-dwellers through the lens of their property claims.

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Urban Lakes

Lakes and other urban water bodies have become commonplace as omens of urban futures in Indian cities. From the frothing lakes of Bengaluru, to the flood-prone nalas of Hyderabad, to the volatile coasts of seaside cities like Mumbai and Chennai, urban waters are uniquely characterized by flux and fluidity and are sites of ongoing life-making, competing meaning-making, and aspirational property-making. Hyderabad (India) is a city of lakes and streams, despite its reputation for being an arid place. Hyderabad’s lakes tell many stories; historical and cultural ; political, legal and economic ; and infrastructural and ecological . This collaborative project with Pullanna Vidyapogu examines the lakes as multivalent multi-dimensional geographies. We especially pay attention to lakes as caste geographies and as sites of accumulation.

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Sanitation Infrastructure

As a Research Associate at Hyderabad Urban Lab, I conducted ethnographic research and contributed to collaborative projects addressing a range of topics related to sanitation such as public toilet management, the politics of community toilets, and the gendered differentials of access to sanitation. I helped coordinate and organize an online campaign called #DontHoldItIn to spread awareness on the massive shortcomings in public sanitation facilities for women. I also worked with community based organizations to support their advocacy programs and their movements to demand better infrastructures.

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Housing Rights

Between 2014-2016, as a Research Associate on a Ford Foundation funded project anchored at Hyderabad Urban Lab, I conducted ethnographic research across three cities: Hyderabad, Vijayawada, Visakhapatnam; collaboratively carried out analysis of policy discourse, geospatial data, and survey data; helped build relationships and networks among grassroots activists and organizations; among other project activities. The goal of the project was to bridge "1) the gap between local experience in different cities and state and national level housing rights strategies; 2) the gap between housing rights and allied rights such as rights to work, education, health and clean environment."

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Low-cost Private Education

In 2015, I was the main Research Assistant on an Education International funded project on low-cost private schools and their interface with multinational edu-businesses. The objective of the study was to examine at various scales the ascendant edu-businesses and startups in Hyderabad providing tech solutions to schools, and to document the processes by which low-cost private schools were replacing public schools as the preferred option for poor families in the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana region. The goal was to provide concrete data and insights for the teachers, scholars and activists who are concerned by the rapid privatization of education across the world.

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Open Source Ethics

Between 2012-2014, while pursuing an M.A. in Development Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences - Mumbai, I completed a dissertation project titled "Networking Change? The Culture of Free and Open Source Software Communities in India". My research was aimed at revealing the actually existing political and ideological positions that inform the everyday discourse on the fora of open source software developers. Based on interviews with thirty key-informants and discourse analysis of publicly archived online discussion groups, I argue that FOSS developers espouse a pragmatic politics interested in defending certain fundamental ideals and infrastructures such as open standards and net neutrality, while being agnostic about others such as intellectual property rights. A very early version of my research and academic writing, this dissertation is about about information technology, knowledge, collective action, community ethics, and other things in between.

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Image: Christoph Niemann