Global Environmental Politics

Master's Degree Programs in Global Environmental Policy and in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development

Contesting the Unethical City: Land Dispossession and Corruption Narratives in Urban India


AU SIS Assistant Professor Malini Ranganathan has published an article in the Annals of the American Association of Geographers with her colleague from the University of Arizona, Sapana Doshi: “Contesting the Unethical City: Land Dispossession and Corruption Narratives in Urban India.” Dr. Ranganathan is a critical geographer whose work looks at the overlap of human and urban geography, cultural anthropology, and critical development studies. Read the abstract for her publication on the impact of corruption discourse in Mumbai and Bangalore below. 

In this age of global inequality, how people talk of corruption matters. This article examines the role of corruption narratives in struggles against land enclosures (“land grabs”) in two Indian cities. Drawing on ethnographic research on land grabs in Mumbai and Bangalore and critical corruption and geography literatures, we argue that corruption talk by slum-based and lower middle-class residents and activists advances an ethical critique of contemporary capitalism. In our cases, corruption discourse upends mainstream development agendas that narrowly equate corruption with individual acts of bribery and the long-standing notion in India that corruption manifests mainly among the poor and lower rungs of the state. Instead, we find that “corruption” serves as a cultural, semantic, and moral rubric that expresses and shapes a sense of structural injustice in this moment of sharpening urban inequality. Specifically, corruption talk is leveraged to identify and challenge the mechanisms underlying elite land grabs and the hypocritical policing of the poor. Corruption discourse also provides a meaningful framework to voice discontent over the betrayal of the “public interest”—defined here as housing and economic dispossession. Taking care not to unequivocally celebrate its progressive potential, we find that corruption discourse can be and has been repurposed in disruptive ways. We therefore posit the need to examine how corruption politics are expanding—rather than disappearing—from geographies of advanced capitalism.

Author: sisgep

The Global Environmental Politics program in the School of International Service at American University offers a unique, specialized, and world-leading graduate environmental studies education. We have two degree tracks: Global Environmental Policy (GEP), and our dual-degree Natural Resources and Sustainable Development (NRSD) option with the UN-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica. Join us!

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