Making Delhi 'world-Class': Relations Between Informal Service Sector Workers and the 'new' Middle Class

Monday, July 14, 2014: 11:15 AM
Room: 311+312
Oral Presentation
Seth SCHINDLER , Institute for Asian and African Studies, Humboldt University of Berlin, Berlin, Germany
Governments at multiple levels have ambitiously committed to transforming India’s metropolises. In this context formal electoral politics increasingly favor the so-called ‘new middle class,’ while the urban poor are typically excluded from formal politics and the formal economy. While scholarship tends to compartmentalize the politics of the new middle class and the urban poor by focusing on how they interact with the state, little is known about inter-class relations. In this talk I present original research on relations between workers in the informal service sector (i.e. street hawkers and wastepickers) and associations that represent the new middle class (i.e. resident welfare associations and market traders’ associations). I show that in the case of Delhi, conflict between these groups is typically over the terms of use of urban space rather than zero-sum conflicts over space. Furthermore, the analysis shows that these classes are interdependent; the poor depend on demand for services from the new middle class for their livelihoods, and the lifestyles of new middle class are enabled by services provided by the informal service sector. However, both groups also require access to space; it is the most important means of subsistence for the poor working in the informal service sector, while members of the new middle class require the production ‘world-class’ spaces where they can practice cosmopolitan lifestyles that serve as the basis of class membership. I conclude that through their labor the poor undoubtedly enable and participate in Delhi’s transformation into a so-called ‘world-class’ city. However, the reconciliation of competing visions of urbanization – one geared toward subsistence and the other social reproduction – is what is at stake in contemporary inter-class relations in Delhi.