Sai Balakrishnan, "Shareholder Cities: Land Transformations Along Urban Corridors in India" (U Pennsylvania Press, 2019)

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In the thoroughly researched, lucidly narrated new book Shareholder Cities: Land Transformations Along Urban Corridors in India (University of Pennsylvania Press), Sai Balakrishnan (Assistant Professor of City and Urban Planning at UC Berkeley) examines the novel phenomenon of the conversion of agrarian landowners into urban shareholders in India’s newly emerging “corridor cities.”

Working at the unique intersection of urban planning and agrarian politics in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, the book centers an unusual cast of characters based in agrarian space -- propertied sugar elites, marginal cultivators, landless workers – in explaining the production of India’s new urban corridors.

Through a meticulous case-study of three privately developed real estate enclaves, the book empirically teases out the tensions between economic liberalization and political decentralization. In the first two corridor cities, the author shows how local, decentralized structures of democratic governance (exemplified in village councils or Gram Sabhas) could not be activated to challenge the unequal processes of economic transformation, but in third enclave, Gram Sabhas were able to be much more active.

Through this comparative study, we learn of the critical factors which determine democratic horizons in rural land politics. With its keen attention to the historical production of spatial unevenness and its textured ethnography of a crucial yet understudied topic in Indian social science, this book will be essential reading for geographers, anthropologists, historians, and urbanists working across South Asia and beyond.

Aparna Gopalan is a Ph.D. student at Harvard University with interests in agrarian capitalism in rural Rajasthan.

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