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Seminar by Dr. Sunil Kumar

A seminar on “The Urbanisation-Construction-Migration Nexus: Notes from Chennai, India” was held at the Joan Robinson Hall on May 6, 2019. The seminar was presented by Dr. Sunil Kumar, Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, London.

Abstract: While the extent of urbanisation in India may be debated, there can be little doubt of the scale and pace of urban transformations that Indian cities are witnessing since the 1990s. These urban transformations have included not only large infrastructure projects, but also large-scale industrial, commercial, and residential developments. Most, if not all, of these urban transformations are fuelled by a combination of increasing economic growth and private conspicuous consumption in real estate. Financial capital (international and domestic) is being poured into large-scale construction that is being built on the backs of internal migrant construction workers. This talk on the Urbanisation-Construction-Migration Nexus seeks to generate a critical dialogue into the workings of the state and market by drawing upon research conducted in Chennai in 2014-15.Harvey’s conceptualisation of ‘accumulation by dispossession’ is often revoked in relation to the inroads that financial-capital makes in conjunction with the state (explicit and implicit) in dispossessing households and communities ofthe land and common property resources that their livelihoods depend on. What has received less attention is how these urban transformations hide multiple exclusionary processes and exploitative practices. The labour camps that house migrant construction workers are enclosures that exclude local construction labour at the same time act as ‘panopticons’ of control and scrutiny of those who live and work in them. Although important, a sole focus on the living and working condition of migrant construction workers in labour camps, detracts attention from larger questions such as the manner in which collective action among migrant labour is constrained, to questions relating to the disconcerting exploitation and consumption of natural resources entailed by these urban transformations.