Making the Modern Slum: The Power of Capital in Colonial Bombay

Sheetal Chhabria

Making the Modern Slum: The Power of Capital in Colonial Bombay

Critical Theory,Economic Sociology,Others

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 slums in the combined efforts of capitalists and government officials to turn capitalist crises into profitable projects of city-making and slum-reform. She challenges assumptions about colonial urbanization and cities in the global south, and also provides a new analytical approach to urban studies and histories of colonialism. The book shows how the wellbeing of the city—rather than of its people—became an increasingly urgent goal of government, with agrarian distress, famished migrants, and the laboring poor seen as threats to be contained or excluded.

Chhabria, Sheetal. Making the Modern Slum: The Power of Capital in Colonial Bombay. U of Washington P, 2019.