In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Indian Urbanization

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Monographs
  • Anthologies
  • Urban Infrastructures and Basic Services

Urban Studies Indian Urbanization
Ashima Sood
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 October 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 October 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0038


Even as late as 2008, over sixty years after Indian independence from British colonial rule, only 30 percent of India’s population lived in urban areas. Not surprisingly, the rural loomed large in the young nation’s postcolonial imagination over the 20th century. Scholarly attention to Indian cities took a sharp upward turn in the new millennium. A constellation of social, economic, political, and cultural forces came together in this “urban turn.” The International Monetary Fund–mandated economic reforms of 1991 over time brought cities to increasing policy prominence as nodes for national and transnational capital flows. At the same time, the 74th Constitutional Amendment Act provided statutory status to urban local bodies as the third tier of elected government in India, after the central government and states. Together, the unfolding of these changes created a profound shift in the political economy of Indian cities. Equally powerful transformations reconfigured the sociocultural landscapes of Indian cities starting in the 1980s and 1990s. The English-educated middle classes had been influential in the politics and cultures of Indian cities since colonial times. However, a sustained period of economic growth in the 1980s and the rise of skill-intensive and eventually globalized services sector economies in the following decades allowed this increasingly urban middle class access to new forms of material and symbolic consumption. Globalized aspirations and assertions accompanied and informed the rise of this class. While the liberalization of import controls brought consumer goods from around the world into Indian marketplaces, the incursion of cable television and in time, the internet, brought exposure to global norms of consumption. Alongside these emerging cultures of consumerism, new global imaginaries of the postindustrial city shaped both popular and policy visions of ‘world-class’ cities. Yet vast swaths of urban India remain outside the ambit of elite discourses. More than four in five urban workers, according to recent data, are informally employed (i.e., they lack even basic job protections). As many as half or more urban residents in many Indian megacities live in unplanned settlements. Some of these shortages of housing and basic services were encoded into colonial planning paradigms. But the cleansing and beautification campaigns that create and maintain world-class cities also drive processes of immiseration as poor groups are pushed out of prosperous city centers. The interplay of these social, cultural, economic, and political transformations and contradictions over the last twenty-five years or more have inspired a vast and burgeoning scholarship on Indian urbanization.

General Overviews

Prakash 2002 and Baviskar, et al. 2011 examine the growth of urban scholarship in India. Appadurai 2000 (cited under Bombay/Mumbai) is an important early contribution to urban studies in India. Chatterjee 2004 and Kennedy 2013 provide useful groundings on the processes of sociopolitical change and economic restructuring that shaped Indian cities starting in the 1990s.

  • Baviskar, Amita, Anant Maringanti, Karen Coelho, and Vinay Gidwani. “Urban Concerns: An Introduction.” Economic and Political Weekly 46.31 (2011): 39–40.

    This introductory essay sets the stage for the biannual Review of Urban Affairs, a scholarly journal supplement dedicated to the study of Indian cities.

  • Chatterjee, Partha. “Are Indian Cities Becoming Bourgeois at Last?” In The Politics of the Governed: Reflections on Popular Politics in Most of the World. By Partha Chatterjee, 131–148. New York: Columbia University Press, 2004.

    A seminal theorization of the changing role of the middle classes in Indian cities that also examines the variegated forms of citizenship ascribed by state actors to middle-class and poor groups.

  • Kennedy, Loraine. The Politics of Economic Restructuring in India: Economic Governance and State Spatial Rescaling. London: Routledge, 2013.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315858869

    A monograph that lays out a theoretically rigorous and empirically grounded framework for understanding issues of urban governance in India.

  • Prakash, Gyan. “The Urban Turn.” Sarai Reader 2 (2002): 2–7.

    A seminal contribution delineates the increasing salience of the ‘city’ in the national discourse in the new millennium. Argues against a historicist understanding of urbanization as a teleological process of socioeconomic ‘development’ of the kind implicit in early postcolonial policy visions of the urban, examined for example in Kalia 2006 (cited under Planned Cities, Steel Towns and Smart Cities). Published in the highly influential annual anthology Sarai Reader.

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