AMITA BAVISKAR, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi University, and FRAN TONKISS, London School of Economics

Lars Mikael Raattamaa, Poet and Architect, Equator, and Beppe Karlsson, Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University.



AMITA BAVISKAR, Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi University

Rivers into Real Estate: Contests over Urban Commons in Delhi, India

This paper argues that the shifting visibility of the river Yamuna in the social and ecological imagination of Delhi is a key element in its transformation. It delineates how the riverbed has changed from being a neglected “non-place” to prized real estate for private and public corporations. It argues that the transformation of an urban commons into a commodity is not only embedded in processes of political economy, but is also driven by aesthetic sensibilities that shape how ecological landscapes are valued. However, the commodification of the riverbed must confront the fact that the Yamuna is an ecological entity with dynamics that can defy attempts at domestication.


Amita Baviskar is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi. Her research focuses on the cultural politics of environment and development. Her first book In the Belly of the River: Tribal Conflicts over Development in the Narmada Valley (Oxford University Press) discussed the struggle for survival by adivasis in central India against a large dam.  Her subsequent work further explores the themes of resource rights, subaltern resistance and cultural identity. More recently, she has focused on urban environmental politics, especially bourgeois environmentalism and spatial restructuring in the context of economic liberalization in Delhi.  Her latest research examines changing food practices in western India in relation to the transformation of agrarian environments. She has edited Waterlines: The Penguin Book of River Writings (Penguin India); Waterscapes: The Cultural Politics of a Natural Resource (Permanent Black); Contested Grounds: Essays on Nature, Culture and Power (Oxford University Press); and Elite and Everyman: The Cultural Politics of the Indian Middle Classes (with Raka Ray, Routledge). She has taught at the University of Delhi, and has been a visiting scholar at Stanford, Cornell, Yale and the University of California at Berkeley.  She was awarded the 2005 Malcolm Adiseshiah Award for Distinguished Contributions to Development Studies, the 2008 VKRV Rao Prize for Social Science Research, and the 2010 Infosys Prize for Social Sciences.

FRAN TONKISS, London School of Economics

Enclosure, Expulsion and Encampment: Dispossession and the Politics of the Commons

A range of struggles around current practices of enclosure - from the appropriation of land to the privatisation of cities and the hyper-securitisation of space - raise the always complicated relations between property, protest and access in particularly acute ways. The rights of property, of use and  of access represent conflicting 'rights' to the city that splinter urban citizenship into various categories of rentier and squatter, speculator and dissenter, householder or trespasser. In this discussion we will consider how a diverse politics of the commons might respond to these conflicts, in a manner which allows us to think about land, space and resources beyond the categories of public and private.


Fran Tonkiss is Reader in Sociology, and Director of the Cities Programme at the London School of Economics. Her research and teaching is in the fields of urban and economic sociology. Her interests in urbanism include cities and social theory, urban development and design, urban inequalities, spatial divisions and public space. In economic sociology, her research focuses on markets, globalisation, trust and social capital. Publications in these fields include Space, the City and Social Theory (Polity, 2005), and Contemporary Economic Sociology: Globalisation, Production, Inequality (Routledge, 2006). She is the co-author of Market Society: Markets and Modern Social Theory (Polity, 2001, with Don Slater), and co-editor of Trust and Civil Society (Macmillan, 2000, with Andrew Passey). She is currently managing editor of the journal Economy and Society; she was previously an editor of the British Journal of Sociology, and remains a member of the editorial board.