In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Bombay was beset by crises such as famine and plague. Yet, rather than halting the flow of capital, these crises served to secure it. In colonial Bombay, capitalists and governors, Indian and British alike, used moments of crisis to justify interventions that delimited the city as a distinct object and progressively excluded laborers and migrants from it. Town planners, financiers, and property developers joined forces to secure the city as a space for commerce and encoded shelter types as legitimate or illegitimate. By the early twentieth century, the slum emerged as a particularly useful category of stigmatization that would animate city-making projects in subsequent decades.
Sheetal Chhabria locates the origins of Bombay’s now infamous “slum problem” in the broader histories of colonialism and capitalism. She not only challenges assumptions about colonial urbanization and cities in the global south, but also provides a new analytical approach to urban history. Making the Modern Slum shows how the wellbeing of the city–rather than of its people–became an increasingly urgent goal of government, positioning agrarian distress, famished migrants, and the laboring poor as threats to be contained or excluded.
This is a refreshingly original and challenging account of the exclusionary logic of colonial urbanization. The British not only controlled the production of space in Bombay; they also shaped an Orwellian discourse that disguised slum-making as housing reform. Highly recommended.
Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums
The relevance of Making the Modern Slum is not limited to urban studies of Bombay, or indeed of South Asian colonial cities. Chhabria’s ability to ask fundamental questions about the city and its archive makes a major contribution to our understanding of the modern city as a construct.
Swati Chattopadhyay, author of Unlearning the City: Infrastructure in a New Optical Field
An extensive and wide-ranging analysis of the dynamics of urban change—a work of insight and originality.
Jim Masselos, honorary reader in history, University of Sydney