PhD grant recipient Pratik Mishra reflects on research conference in India

PhD candidate, Pratik Mishra, received the Department of Geography’s Small Grant Fund Award, with which he attended the RC21 Conference 2019 in Delhi, India.

The RC21 Conference (or in full, the Research Committee 21 Conference on Sociology of Urban and Regional Development) is one of the premier urban studies events globally, and I was lucky that it happened in Delhi around my fieldwork year. Ever since the announcement, I literally structured my year around it so that I would use it as the take-off to my second stint of fieldwork in the brick kilns around Delhi. And the RC21 also became the stage for me to test and develop the ideas from my first stint of fieldwork, both within my own panel presentation and also in co-convening a stream with 9 participants. So, it was pretty much perfect.

Delhi and its larger agglomeration is becoming a hub for Global South urban scholarship, and even in hosting a global conference the local strength of all the scholarship emerging from this urban centre itself was significant. RC21’s achievement in bringing this larger, decentralized Delhi studies group together was a great advantage for me to locate other scholar’s work in relation to my own. Then there is the larger Indian urban studies research group who were amply represented, some of them colleagues from my department in King’s. Hence, this photo of King’s Geography PhD candidates in Delhi was special.

Among my highlights from this conference were some of the very grounded ethnographic studies by young scholars such as Cynthia Morinville (on scrap markets), Nitin Bathla (on land transformation) and Aparna Agarwal (on landfill sites), among others. More established scholars like Karen Coelho, Awadendhra Sharan, Lisa Bjorkmann, Roger Keil and Gautam Bhan were also really eloquent and insightful in presenting their new research ventures. I found some time to speak with Awadendhra Sharan, who is Delhi’s pre-eminent environmental historian, and he gave me references and tips for accessing brick kiln documents at the Delhi State Archive that have been really valuable.

One of the ‘celebrity’ presentations at the conference was the 2019 Antipode lecture/ plenary talk by Priti Ramamurthy on ‘Delhi of dostis (friendship)’. It explored how friendships may offer working-class rural male migrants spaces of hopeful, dynamic and relational socialities, making the city a space of possibilities. It was an enthralling presentation that deserved the long ovation it received (available on Youtube).

My presentation sat very well within a panel discussion on the understanding of the peri-urban as a dynamic geography entangled with the production of the urban. I presented on how the peri-urban or the periphery can be traced through the migrant circulations of brick workers in and out of the city on different rhythms and for different reasons. The conveners of the panel decided to go forward with a publication project,and my paper has been selected within this. It will be published this year in a special issue of the open-access journal SAMAJ.

From my own positionality, the RC21 conference in Delhi was a really intimate affair where I could engage with scholars, many of whom I had read or heard of, and engage in conversations that were really useful to my project. Being in my fieldwork year, it allowed me a moment to zoom out and take in what’s happening within so many other exciting research projects. That this was achieved by only taking a one-way flight and not putting as much carbon in the air (the return flight was at the end of fieldwork four months later) was providential in the best way.

I extend my thanks to the Department of Geography Small Grants Fund for their generosity in funding my attendance at the conference.