D. Asher Ghertner: Rule by aesthetics: world-class city making in Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2015, 272 pp
Author(s)Rao Cavale, Karthik
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The demolition and clearance of“JJ clusters”[jhuggijhopri clusters/squatter settlements] in Delhi in the first decade of the 21st century resulted in the displacement of approximately one million people, i.e. about 6% of the total population of Delhi. There can be little doubt that “slum clearance” on such a massive scale was a form of class warfare carried out by Delhi’s elites against the working classes. And yet, the metaphor of “warfare” seems inappropriate to describe events which produced little controversy, except among those immediately affected. How was such a drastic programme of urban cleansingconceived and implemented, and why was the resistance it generated so splintered, weak and ineffectual? In Rule by Aesthetics, Asher Ghertnerargues that this dramatic restructuring of the city could be enacted successfully because state institutions, and the judiciary in particular, set aside the “calculative instruments of map, census, and survey” and instead inaugurated a “mode of governing space on the basis of codes of appearance”. This was made possible by the “dissemination of a… world-class aesthetic”, and the “cultivation of a viewing public that takes part in that very vision.” So powerful was the allure of the “world-class aesthetic” that even the victims of “world-class” city making were instilled with“a will to participate in its discourse and to make its visual criteria their own.” While partaking in this aesthetic discourse did not denote consent for violent demolition, Ghertner argues that it was a response to the constraints of the political environment in which “jhuggi dwellers’ political demands were rendered mere noise”.
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Urban Studies and Planning
Rao-Cavale, Karthik. “D. Asher Ghertner: Rule by Aesthetics: World-Class City Making in Delhi, Oxford University Press, 2015, 272 pp.” DECISION 44.2 (2017): 165–167.
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