[Reader-list] first posting- Tactical City- Sarai fellowship

Rupali Gupte rupali_gupte at rediffmail.com
Tue Jan 27 08:36:42 IST 2004

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I am a fellow at Sarai, an architect by training and an urbanist by interest and profession. 
Tactical City is an attempt to write an alternative history of Bombay's urbanism. The 
fellowship project will be a re-representation of this in a web format. 

Here is an elaborate abstract of the project:

Rupali Gupte


Tactical City

fictitious history of Mumbai. The contention of the thesis is that conditions in most third 
world cities have gone beyond the means of any rational positivist planning. All through 
Mumbai’s political and economic history pervading power structures have ensured a 
lopsided distribution of resources. Through new structural adjustments this has carried 
forward to the contemporary global context. Contemporary global cities now face 
escalating problems of environmental deterioration, burdening of infrastructure, lack of 
housing, growing informalisation of labour coupled with declining bargaining capacity, 
unemployment and an increasing polarization of economy and on a cultural level a loss 
of identity. Many of these have been inherited as consequences of earlier modes of 
production. The sheer scale and extent of the gap now requires NEW EYES to see the 
present conditions and NEW TOOLS to OPERATE and perhaps a NEW IMAGINATION to 
intervene in these conditions. TACTICAL CITY is such an IMAGINATION. Tactical City is a 
way of thinking about cities and is perhaps applicable to other developing contexts. The 
context here however is Mumbai.  

Tactical City derives it name from Michel De Certeau’s thesis of tactics vs. strategies: 
where he says that strategies are the tools of the dominant elite while TACTICS work in 
the shadow of strategies and are ‘an art of the weak’ , which form mute processes that 
organise socio economic order. It thereby bases itself on De Certeau’s argument against 
Foucault’s thesis of an all pervading power structure, to quote De Certeau, “ If it is true 
that the grid of discipline is everywhere becoming clearer and more extensive, it is all 
the more urgent to discover how an entire society resists being reduced to it, what 
popular procedures (also miniscule and quotidian)  manipulate the mechanisms of 
discipline and conform to them, only to evade them and finally what ways of operating 
form the consumer’s (or dominee’s ) side of the mute processes that organize socio-
economic order. “
Tactical City is a means of bringing these mute processes to mainstream discourse and 
exploiting their creative potentials and their constant attempts at bridging the gaps 
between the dominant imagination and the aspirations of the city. The thesis believes 
that the TACTICAL is an appropriate metaphor to conceptualise the context as well as an 
important tool to formulate interventions in the city. 

Methods and devices

Tactical City, as a fictitious History of Mumbai’s urbanism, uses many devices, literary 
and visual – the protagonist of the story is the popular south Indian folkloric figure 
Tenali Rama. The choice of Tenali Rama is primarily because he is known as a simple, 
everyday character who transforms the status quo with his tactics. The stories that 
follow do two things: one they help build the nuances of the cultural context of Mumbai 
and two, they make way for a tactical intervention, which could be a design intervention 
or an analytical one. 

Existing format

The existing format of the research is a mixed media novel. The structure of the novel is 
tripartite. One part presents the history of Mumbai as it shifts through the political and 
economic structures and their consequences on urbanism, the second distorts this 
rendition of history with the infiltration of various tactical interventions via the character 
of Tenali Rama in the city and the third is a device, which employs relevant cultural and 
urban theorists as markers of certain ways of thinking about the urban. Margin notes 
provide a brief account of their theses.
 Objective of the project 

The objective of the project is to add to this existing body of work done by the author 
and to convert it to an appropriate (web based) digital format for 2 reasons: 
1. To open out a larger dialogical space for the work in the public domain through a web 
based format.
2. To use an appropriate digital interface to present the complex notion of a TACTICAL 
history of Mumbai, further enhancing the research’s tripartite structure.
The website is seen as yet another tactical device geared towards dissemination, 
representing multiple histories and involving reader interactivity.


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