Frothing Urbanism

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Frothing Urbanism is view of contemporary urbanism in India, advanced by urbanists Rupali Gupte, Rahul Mehrotra and Prasad Shetty. Frothing Urbanism begins with the idea that structured attempts at conceptualizing urban transformations in Indian cities are inadequate to make sense of their extremely complex and fluid dynamics, and often end up simplifying the picture too much - even acquiring the character of conspiracy theories. In other words, Frothing Urbanism aims at being not a theory of urbanism, but a critique of conceptual frameworks that attempt to "force a structured pattern" on urbanism that is essentially unpredictable, contradictory and messy. As they explain:

"The metaphor of “froth” is useful and seems apt to discuss the architecture of this Urbanism. The overall form of the froth is deceptive – it changes constantly without any seemingly predictable pattern. The macro view of this froth makes evident its dynamic nature. While this view is capable of discussing geographical and territorial issues, it remains inadequate to discuss any thing else. Theoretical attempts to force a structured pattern into this form of urbanism ends up in formulating conspiracies of global capital and squabbles over grand plots of globalisation, new imperialism etc." [1]

The authors base their challenge to mainstream urban theory by noticing the highly unusual behavior of agencies, individuals and groups in cities, often acting contrary to what is considered in their 'interest' or part of their 'agenda.' It is common to see, for example, NGOs (in contrast to their traditional adversarial role) joining hands with the state or collaborating with international development agencies; it is usual for formal institutions to act informally; civil society groups (that usually promote civil liberties) demanding segregation while elite groups (that traditionally profit from corruption) fight corruption. According to the authors, this is highly atypical of urban dynamics elsewhere, and therefore accounts that rely on common 'expectations' about urban actors are bound to be flawed. They explain:

"These convoluted formations, rearrangements and erasures form bizarre new patterns of work, living and leisure create even more bizarre metropolitan psychologies. They operate with multiple logics involving large number of actors in complex arrangements – for example it is now easy to find traditionally rival groups like government agencies and NGOs concerned with the urban poor working in partnership with each other. Trying to grasp the emergent urbanism in contemporary India is like trying to grasp the froth, which slides between the fingers as you tighten your fist around it." [2]