Drawn into Life: Mapping, Development, and Ecological Vision in Urban India
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This dissertation situates the development of mapping technologies and cartographic images in relation to the growing global awareness of climate change and a parallel surge in government led environmental reforms. In the wake of natural disasters like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, maps became key instruments for identifying natural resources for conservation, disaster mitigation, sustainable development, the foundation for the India’s coastal ecological policy, and vital to the urban planning apparatus. By attending closely to the role of the imaging and survey technology in environmental governance and through fieldwork with surveyors, I show the different registers in which maps, as images, gain social force, bureaucratic authority, and come to lie at the root of different struggles over land, housing, and space in Mumbai. I attend to the ways in which mapping technologies are taken up by fisher communities in Mumbai, whose lands and livelihoods are affected to the ecological policies of the Indian state. Despite their “non-expert” status, or lack of training in these imaging technologies, the fishing communities engage maps in multiple ways in order to respond to the state, especially at the level of the local planning agencies. I suggest that fishing communities engage these new ecological policies as bureaucratic apparatuses that are distinctly visual, given policy’s reliance on the cartographic. As a result, much of the communities’ political struggles are conducted through visual practices that recontextualize official maps by placing them in relation to a field of different images that articulate the fishermen’s political positions. Communities, such as the fishermen, draw new relations between these official maps and other more “popular” images, such as photographs, montages, and plans. By looking at the role of maps and survey images in a broad visual field, I situate the fisher communities’ struggles within a wider public movement demanding greater participation and transparency in urban governance. I track these public movements to show how they emerge from the shift towards neo-liberal planning policies and rely on the cartographic image as a means of engaging the state. Lastly, I return to the relation between environment and visual representation by suggesting that communities that are caught in the cross-hairs of development and the climate crisis find themselves having to take up fluid political positions in relation to shifting long and short-term horizons of community relations, their livelihoods, and ecological and development policies. I suggest that fishing communities in Mumbai cultivate a deep political engagement with images as the improvisational nature of visual practice allows them to navigate the shifting temporal horizons and the changing currents of urban politics and ecological change.