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B11 New Urban Imaginaries (project completed)

Difference, Danger and New Urban Imaginaries of the Public in Asia and Europe

Coordination: Christiane Brosius, Tina Schilbach


Difference, Danger and New Urban Imaginaries of the Public in Asia and Europe

The project focuses on the emergence of new public spheres in global cities. Shanghai and New Delhi serve as case studies to explore the ideas, practices and institutions through which urban publics are imagined, lived, transformed and contested among various social classes and urban communities. “Western” imaginaries of the modern city, and their familiar narration in the visual and social landscape of these two cities, are juxtaposed against the developmental context of Chinese and Indian urbanism.

Shanghai and New Delhi are in many ways “consolidating” global cities. They have become places of trends and practices that are familiar to the urban experience elsewhere in the world. They stage confident performances of the “world-class city”, partake in the common creative language of urban branding, and identify closely with the intensely aspirational lifestyles, taste structures and consumption habits of a new middle-class. At the same, though, this process raises new questions for scholars interested in how globalised urbanity is inscribed in transitioning societies, where it is working closely within developmental narratives, new social hierarchies and the multilayered heritage of colonial and/or Communist history.

The concept of the global city in the urban context of the global South is still dominated by a macro-perspective or a generic mega-city view, in which either a reductive set of global-city indicators are applied or these cities are seen as “catching up” or surpassing established urban entities in the West. This project argues more forcefully for an anthropological approach, and for micro-perspectives such as ethnographies, oral histories, and sensory documentation in order to capture the dynamic and fluid configurations of developmental cities, and to identify points of reference for conceptual enrichment of the term of the global city itself.

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Delhis Yamuna during the Durga Puja festival
Migrant and working class street life in Shanghais old Luwan district
White collar Indians relaxing at central Connaught Place Delhi
Gentrification of old Shanghai The Cool Docks bars
Modern cafe chain with young customers in Delhi
Housing estate in Shanghais Putuo district
View from Shanghais Bund along the Huangpu River