Theses Doctoral

Making the Modern Slum: Housing, Mobility, and Poverty in Bombay and its Peripheries

Chhabria, Sheetal

This dissertation examines the formation of urban poverty and slums which have long stigmatized South Asian cities. It focuses on the emergence of markets in housing through the 19th and early 20th centuries in Bombay primarily, and Karachi and Aden secondarily. It is the first historical study of slums, or poor and stigmatized housing, in colonial Western India. It critically engages with the terms of global urban modernity and the historiography of colonialism in South Asia, challenging the broader nationalist frames in which scholars have understood South Asia's poverty. While this is not a comparative project, the dissertation interrogates many of the implicit and explicit comparative claims that have been made about colonial cities and their legibility in the discourse on global slums. Housing was a visible marker of inequality on the urban landscape and therefore a useful site through which to examine the changing relations between migrants and settlers, laborers and capitalists, and society and the state. The changing political economy of Western India resulted in a laboring and urban poor whose housing issues became productive of regional, colonial, and national difference. By following circular migrants across city and country, this study builds on the subcontinent's Early Modern history of a pervasive rural-urban continuum of human networks. Everyday workers used their mobility and habitation practices to negotiate a changing world, bringing cities like Bombay, Karachi, and Aden into their routes of mobility to earn a livelihood. Increased opportunities combined with the intensification of production, market crises, growing demographic pressures on the land, and the spread of indebtedness to produce and reproduce inequality. This dissertation also compares the subsequent management of the urban poverty problem in cities across Western India, which heightened concerns over public health and sanitation. Newly financed poor housing initiatives sought to correct these at the turn of the century, but their limitations made modern slums. By addressing the eventual obfuscation of the once-transitioned status of the modern slum-dweller, this study delineates the bases for the conceptualization of a distinctive third world poverty and urban form.


  • thumnail for Chhabria_columbia_0054D_10533.pdf Chhabria_columbia_0054D_10533.pdf application/pdf 39.6 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
McKeown, Adam M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 25, 2012