Thomas G. Cowan, “Subaltern Frontiers: Property and Labour in the Neoliberal Indian City” (Cambridge UP, 2022)

In urban and peri-urban areas across the Global South, politicians, planners and developers are engaged in a voracious scramble to refashion land for global real estate investment and transfer state power to private sector actors. Much of this development has taken place on the outskirts of the traditional metropoles, in the territorially flexible urban frontier. At the forefront of these processes in India, is Gurgaon, a privately developed metropolis on the south-western hinterlands of New Delhi, that has long been touted as India’s flagship neoliberal city. 

Thomas G. Cowan’s book Subaltern Frontiers: Property and Labour in the Neoliberal Indian City (Cambridge UP, 2022) tells a story of India’s remarkable urban transformation by examining the politics of land and labour that have shaped the city of Gurgaon. The book examines how the country’s flagship post-liberalisation urban project has been shaped and filtered through agrarian and subaltern histories, logics, and subjects. In doing so, the book explores how the production of globalised property and labour in contemporary urban India is filtered through colonial instruments of land governance, living histories of uneven agrarian development, material geographies of labour migration, and the worldly aspirations of peasant-agriculturalists.

Garima Jaju is currently a post-doc at Cambridge University.

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