CFP: Social Life of Streets (in India)

Sadan Jha's picture
Call for Publications
September 30, 2020
Subject Fields: 
Anthropology, South Asian History / Studies, Urban Design and Planning, Urban History / Studies, Women's & Gender History / Studies



SOCIAL LIFE OF STREETS - A Call for Chapters for an Edited Volume


Streets are foundational in the conceptualisation of not merely of cityscapes but society itself. Streets connect home and the city, the city with villages and hinterlands, one geo-cultural region with another, state with country, and countries with the world. Both metaphorically and as a concrete historical reality, streets do not merely link physical spaces but function as sites for the circulation of ideas and knowledge, goods and economies, people and sociality, images and cultures, governments and politics, and resistance and subversions. Yet, it is ironical that we have paid little attention to thinking about it. We traverse streets, but we do not think about them in a systematic and sustained manner. In recent decades, however, studies on the historic Silk Route cultures, the spatial turn in the social sciences, the emergence of fields like travel studies, and urban anthropology have encouraged us to pay close attention to the relation between street and society.


Moving through the streets in India, we intuitively recognise streets as a place that engenders particular activities, interactions, behaviours, and by extension, controls. Yet, within built environment discourses, the street is first and foremost conceptualised as a mute backdrop to movement, vehicular or pedestrian. The more engaged perspective allows that the street is a space of activity, usually informal, but this remains an aberration conceptually since the removal of the activity will, presumably, return the street to its original purpose. In the social sciences, the street as a site of contestation is a well recognised trope, emerging from the fact that the street does not belong to any particular person or authority and therefore is subject to contest and tussle over occupation or control. The current moment of the global pandemic has brought renewed focus on the street as the space of networks, flows and mobilities, particularly since the lockdown- or curfew and curtailed movement on the street - has been the chosen mode of controlling the spread of disease. That the lockdown (and its intended/ unintended subversions) exacerbated a number of other inequities further gives traction to the centrality of the street as the physical, social, and economic lifeline for so many people, while also being an important arena for the performance of state power.


The core question is how do we look at streets and in particular, how do we document and conceptualise streets in the Indian context in a way that can lead us to its particularities in South Asian milieus? In such an endeavour, it is worthwhile to begin by engaging with the existing scholarship in and through which the street comes down to us in this geo-cultural context. Thus, Arjun Appadurai (1987) locates streets at multiple levels and establishes its centrality in thinking about space-culture linkages, David Arnold takes us to subaltern streets and its traffic in historical contexts (2012, 2019), and a group of scholars initiates a conversation in the pages of Seminar (2012) placing streetscapes within the contemporary urban milieu. Scholars working with questions of gendered geography and feminism have problematised and deepened scholarship by making us aware about violence, dangers, and issues of gaze which shape the street as a masculine social theatre. In Indian contexts, scholars have also pointed out that we cannot conceptualise streets, neighbourhoods and bazaars as forming distinct well segregated spaces. There are so many provocations! Further, by way of methodological terrains, we have illustrious names from Walter Benjamin (with in his investment in the figure of a flaneur) to Michel de Certeau (with heavy emphasis upon the trope of walking and the site of the everyday). The issue before us is to consider how we may mobilise insights coming from these different directions. Is the street public? Is it merely a physical space? How does the street in its physicality, in its built form, enter or respond to the metaphorical, the literary, the methodological and the social?    


In this proposed volume, we invite chapter submissions on the street as an inherently differentiated place of multivalent experiences and possibilities. We wish to draw out the diverse subjectivities and agendas which intersect to produce the streets as a distinctive and complex site of inhabitation, mobility and sociality. Far from being a mute channel of movement, a space that belongs to nobody, or the spatial binary opposite of privately owned plots, the street is a living site meshed within the social, economic, and political life of the settlement. We invite chapters on the street as a living and lived entity with a distinctive social and spatial logic of inhabitation. Particularly, we seek essays that offer thick descriptions of the street lives, objects, and practices, and which engage or at least hint at the question of the subversive, which the space of the street is potentially rife with.




Deadline for the proposals (500 words abstract, title, six keywords, brief about contributor/s): 30 September, 2020.


Intimation of selection of proposals: 15 October, 2020.


Submission deadline of complete chapter (between 6000 to 8000 words including notes and references): 31 December, 2020.


Authors meet (online, optional): mid February 2021 (dates not yet decided).


Submission of complete manuscript to the publisher: First week of April, 2021.


While we invite empirically rich and theoretically well informed essays, we particularly encourage proposals looking at streets from gender perspective, dalit subjectivities, violence, and migrant perspectives.


Bloomsbury Academic India has consented to publish the volume.


Do get in touch if you have any thoughts or questions.


Looking forward,



Sadan Jha, Associate Professor, Centre for Social Studies, Surat []

Gauri Bharat, Associate Professor, CEPT, Ahmedabad []





Appadurai, Arjun. “Street Culture”. The India Magazine 8 (1, December), 1987: 2-23.


“Streetscapes: A symposium on the Future of the Street”. Seminar 636 (August).2012.


Arnold, David. “Subaltern Streets: India, 1870-1947”. In Tariq Jazeel and Stephen Legg ed., Subaltern Geographies. Athens: University of Georgia Press: 36-57.


Arnold, David. 2012. “The Problem of Traffic: The street-life of modernity in late-colonial India”. Modern Asian Studies 46 (1, January), Everyday Technology in South and Southeast Asia: 119-141.

Contact Info: 

Sadan Jha, Associate Professor, Centre for Social Studies, Surat []

Gauri Bharat, Associate Professor, CEPT, Ahmedabad []

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