[Reader-list] first posting- Tactical City- Sarai fellowship
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:
TACTICAL CITY, TENALI RAMA AND OTHER STORIES OF MUMBAIS URBANISM
TACTICAL CITY, TENALI RAMA AND OTHER STORIES OF MUMBAIS URBANISM, is a
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
Mumbais 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 Certeaus 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 Certeaus argument against
Foucaults 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 consumers (or dominees ) side of the mute processes that organize socio-
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 Mumbais 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.
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
2. To use an appropriate digital interface to present the complex notion of a TACTICAL
history of Mumbai, further enhancing the researchs 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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