Wolfson SARC presents: India’s Rubbish: urban activism, state power and public space


Convener: Kate Sullivan de Estrada

Speaker: Assa Doron

In this talk I look at recent debates and activities surrounding campaigns to clean India’s public spaces. I analyse three examples: First, the provocative social media meme-war over the “Ideal Boy” posters and how they portray the Indian public sphere and public space; secondly, The Ugly Indian movement with its pragmatic aim of galvanising the population to clean up India, and finally, State efforts at cleaning India’s public space, as in the Swachh Bharat Mission. By comparing and contrasting these campaigns, the paper reveals how rubbish and “waste” is closely tied to ideas about the modern self and to that of the nation-state (bio politics), as well as concerns with nationalism, civil society and the role of the state in contemporary India. The paper argues that unless we recognise the diverse population that inhabits Indian cities and attaches multiple uses and values to public space, the prospect of cleaning India’s rubbish is unlikely to succeed.


Assa Doron is an Associate Professor in anthropology at the College of Asia and the Pacific, the Australian National University. He is currently completing a manuscript on Waste in India, co-authored with Robin Jeffrey (Harvard University Press). Doron’s recent publications include “Unclean, Unseen: Social Media, Civic Action and Urban Hygiene in India” (South Asia), “The Cultural Politics of Shit” (Postcolonial Studies) and The Great Indian Phone Book (Harvard).


Refreshments will be provided.


For more information please contact: Kate Sullivan de Estrada kate.sullivan@area.ox.ac.uk