I’m happy to announce that I am one of 9 recipients of the 2020 IJURR Foundation Studentship for my proposed doctoral dissertation research, titled “(De)Constructing Concrete: Capital, Nature, and Infrastructure in Urbanizing India.” More details can be found at here and here.
(De)Constructing Concrete: Capital, Nature, and Infrastructure in Urbanizing India
In August 2018, the coastal south Indian State of Kerala received record rains, triggering a 100-year
flood and accompanying landslides that caused tremendous losses to life and property. Subsequent
investigations revealed the critical role that concrete-fueled urbanization in Kochi, the State’s largest
city, had played in creating and exacerbating the floods. Planning policies that prioritized urban
economic growth had enabled the cementing of wetlands and floodplains for urban expansion.
Rising demand for concrete had, in turn, accelerated unchecked sand dredging from local riverbeds
and stone quarrying from surrounding mountains, preventing water from being absorbed by rivers
and precipitating landslides. The social and ecological problems associated with concrete use are
well known within sustainable development circles, but this has done nothing, until now, to diminish
its popularity as a means of construction. The floods in Kerala, however, have heightened people’s
awareness of the destructive aspects of concrete. As such, this project will investigate the following
question: why is concrete the embodiment of urbanization in developing cities and how is its
dominance being challenged or reproduced in post-floods Kochi? To answer the question, I will
conduct an ethnography of the construction of a typical concrete residential building in suburban
Kochi. I argue that following concrete and its social and material entanglements on the construction
site and beyond will reveal insights about its three major components: financial capital, construction
labor, and sand. These insights will highlight how concrete’s dominance as the materiality of
urbanization is being maintained or disrupted in the aftermath of Kochi’s floods.