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Postcolonial Bombay : decline of a cosmopolitan city?

McFarlane, C. (2008) 'Postcolonial Bombay : decline of a cosmopolitan city?', Environment and planning D : society and space., 26 (3). pp. 480-499.


Discussions of cosmopolitanism in Bombay often focus on the rubrics of communal tension, tolerance, and violence, and frequently report the decline of a once cosmopolitan city, especially as a result of the communal riots and bombings that occurred in the early 1990s. However, claims that the city has undergone a general social transformation since the 1990s need to be tempered by the multiple forms of cosmopolitan imaginations and practices that exist in the city. There is a wide variety of alternative cosmopolitan formations - not all of them progressive - reflected in civil society organizations and lifestyle changes for different groups, and often vividly reflected in film. This paper will chart two examples of contemporary cosmopolitanism. The first part of the paper explores the cautious optimism of film in the promise of cosmopolitan Bombay during the early years of Independence, before briefly discussing how cinema later attempted to reflect the destabilizing of the postcolonial vision of urban national development. The second part of the paper begins with discussion of the contemporary cinematic portrayal of elite-oriented global cosmopolitan modernity, and then contrasts this with a different form of global cosmopolitan modernity articulated through the work of the Slum/Shack Dwellers International network. This discussion conceives of cosmopolitanism as social, marking a counterpoint to the tendency in discourses of liberal cosmopolitanism that emphasizes the agency of the globally aware individual. Methodologically, the paper seeks to demonstrate that relating often analytically separate realms such as film and civil society can provide a wider politicocultural lens through which to examine urban change.

Item Type:Article
Keywords:Cosmopolitanism, Mumbai, Informal settlements, Postcolonialism.
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
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Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:07 August 2009
Date of first online publication:2008
Date first made open access:No date available

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