ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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An Introduction to the Labours of Repair and Maintenance in South Asia

Keeping Cities in Motion

As the cities in South Asia transform into global or “world-class” cities, the lives of those who construct, repair, and maintain these cities are changing. In this collection of articles on repair and maintenance in South Asia, we foreground how the repairers and maintainers of Kolkata, Karachi, and Mumbai—including bicycle and construction machinery repairers, and waste removal and health workers—experience and contribute to the changing urban landscape. As this collection of essays shows, the lives and struggles of these repair workers make cities functional and set their economies into motion.

Like cities in the global South more broadly, South Asian cities are commonly described using a vocabulary of breakdown and brokenness: the message is that their urbanity is a perpetual disaster. Repair workers and city maintainers are constantly transforming this sense of brokenness, as well as the everyday breakdowns, disconnections, and failures. Susan Leigh Star’s (1999) observation that infrastructures are often invisible until they break down and, in particular, her provocation that such breakdowns reveal the tenuous relations that hold infrastructures together has recast scholarly attention on repair as fundamental to society. In response, a rich scholarship has emerged in anthropology and geography to foreground both the spectacular (Larkin 2013; Schwenkel 2015) and the mundane workings of infrastructures (Anand 2017; Graham 2011; McFarlane 2008; Graham and Thrift 2007). In this collection of articles, we extend this scholarship by paying close attention to networks of labour, tutelage, and power, as well as to emerging sites of discontent and mistrust, as they unfold in Kolkata, Karachi, and Mumbai. We ask how ethnographic attention to repair and maintenance can provide new insights into cities and their workings. In seeking to answer this question, our studies reveal the terms upon which new urban connections are being forged in South Asian cities.

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Updated On : 26th Dec, 2020

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