Concept Note & CFP: "Articulating Urbanity: Writing the South Asian City"

deadline for submissions: 
October 15, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
Anubhav Pradhan
contact email: 

While South Asian writing has primarily been concerned with national identities and macroscopic questions of modernity and tradition, urban-scale articulations of hybrid, multi-faceted senses of selfhood have become more common over the past few decades. The urban is that unpredictable, partially knowable realm of experience which inflects our everyday with multiple lexicons of meaning. Such multi-sited meaning is a hallmark of all kinds of urbanity, but in our present context in South Asia it has acquired an epochal significance given the pace at which our cities and towns are developing and perhaps even destroying themselves.

This entwined nature of our urbanisation in South Asia, development and destruction complementing—even sustaining—each other, is what generates that pervasive, palpable tension which has become characteristic of urban writing from this region. Despite political and national differences, our experience of urbanisation is tied inextricably to our shared history of colonisation. Our planning and governance paradigms are rooted in the same impetus to order and discipline, and tend to now display similar aspirations to become world-class and global cities. Distinct yet mirrored, our notions on housing, attitudes to history, and models of real estate development are all tied to each other. In this sense, it is useful to think of the urban not simply in national silos but also at a regional scale to glean the literary footprint of the interreferencing which is reshaping South Asian cities.

Situating the urban within the regional, this proposed volume of essays looks to curate original research on the experience of South Asian cities in contemporary writings in English. Tentatively titled Articulating Urbanity: Writing the South Asian City, this book seeks to contribute to literary urban studies by exploring the changes in both content and form which the force and direction of urbanisation have brought in our writing. Rather than being simply based in cities, such writing is anchored in the peculiar materialities of its urban context. Not only are its authors telling very different kinds of stories from what we are used to reading and assessing, they are telling them in inventive ways which often challenge received wisdom on narrative tone and style. This book is interested in urban scholarship which foregrounds the literary in deployment of a diverse range of methods and sources—archival, sociological, architectural, and geographical, to name a few—to decode what it means to live in urban and urbanising South Asia.

However, instead of being simplistically oriented around cities or regions, this book is more interested in dwelling on the key pivots which constitute the basis of our urbanity. Some of these are:

  1. Planning: South Asian cities have been planned as much by technocratic state institutions as well as urban citizens resiliently exercising their agency to stay put. What has been the psychosomatic imprint of planning in our cities?
  2. Housing: From stately bungalows to self-built shanties, South Asian homes display a wide range of housing typologies. How do these live affective lives of their own?
  3. Education: South Asian cities are home to the region’s most premier universities and educational institutions. How is the campus experience inflected by the urban?
  4. Belonging: Our cities are riven with inequalities and deep bias. Is it easier for some to belong more than others? When does one belong to these cities, and what does it mean to make such a claim?
  5. Love: The vast anonymity of urban life allows love to break social norms even as it often threatens its expression. How does love layer our experience of our cities?
  6. Nostalgia: In a region obsessed with history real and imagined, what does it mean to look to the past in planning for the future?
  7. Gender: Structural changes in urban economies have allowed women greater participation in workplaces and access to public spaces. How is this re-gendering of the urban reflected in South Asian writing?
  8. Uncanniness: Unpredictable and unsettling, South Asian cities are often dangerous places to be in. What makes South Asian urbanity often strange and disturbing?
  9. Crime: Crime and urbanity have always gone hand-in-hand. What role do cities have in spawning South Asian crime fiction?
  10. Militarism: Threatened with various kinds of armed militancy and counter-insurgency, many South Asian cities are amongst the most militarised in the world. How does institutionalised violence shape the urban experience in these cities?
  11. Disease: Despite the novelty of Covid-19, plagues have not been unknown in this region. How have epidemics shaped our cities and changed our experience of them?
  12. Heritage: South Asian cities are both very old and very young. How do we approach and reorient—gentrify; communalise; etc.—our heritage, built and otherwise?
  13. Pollution: Our urban environments are amongst the most polluted and degraded in the world. How has this plummeting liveability been articulated in urban writing from this region?

Unpublished, multi-sectoral essays are invited on these and other relevant concerns. A broad canvas of genres may be considered, including, but not limited to, bildungsroman novels, noir stories, life writing, family sagas, urban comics, campus novels, policy papers, crime thrillers, judicial orders, bourgeois theatre, tour guides, and spoken poetry. Essays must employ multiple sources and methods to substantiate their argument. Contributors are encouraged to work on small towns and to undertake comparative critiques of South Asian cities. While the book’s overall focus is avowedly on the contemporary, it is open to considering writings from the late-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century if they facilitate richer contextualisation of the urban in the twenty-first century.

Proposals of no more than 500 words may be mailed along with a bio-note of a maximum of 100 words to by 15 October 2020. Essays of 5000–6000 words, including notes and bibliography, will be due by 15 April 2021. Contributors will be expected to follow MLA (8th edition) consistently. The book will be contracted to a major international publisher, for a likely release in mid-2022.

Please feel free to direct queries and clarifications to


Anubhav Pradhan

Doctoral Candidate

Department of English

Jamia Millia Islamia