The Critical Classroom – “Class, Caste, Gender, and the Materiality of Cement Houses in India”

Siddharth Menon (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Forthcoming in Antipode 55(2) in March 2023, and available online now, my open access article, “Class, Caste, Gender, and the Materiality of Cement Houses in India”, can be taught in graduate and mid-/higher-level undergraduate courses, like Urban Studies, Urban Political Ecology, Infrastructure Studies, and Development Studies, across disciplines like Geography, Anthropology, Urban Planning, Environmental Design, and Science and Technology Studies (STS).

The article should push students to discuss and debate the myriad ways in which the mundane materialities of everyday infrastructures shape, structure, and suture our complex and interconnected social worlds. It should instigate conversations about the hidden relations of labour that underpin the materiality of infrastructures.

  • How would these relations change when there is a shift in materiality? Would such a shift lead to more equitable relations of work? Who gains and who loses when there are shifts in materiality?

Discussions and debates around these questions, among others, will foreground the false distinction between the “social” and the “material”, thus conceptually moving us towards an understanding of the “socio-material”.

Resources

Materials” – This essay by Penny Harvey from “The Infrastructure Toolbox” in Fieldsights provides a succinct introduction to the agency and power of everyday materials in constituting our social world.

Public Infrastructures/Infrastructural Publics” – This collection of essays edited by Stephen J. Collier, James Christopher Mizes, and Antina Von Schnitzler for Limn brings together striking examples from around the world of how infrastructures are configured by, and in turn configure, different people or “publics” they’re meant to service.

Labor” – This collection of essays edited by Galen Murton for Roadsides uses images, videos, and paintings to reveal the hidden social relations of work that animate contemporary infrastructure development projects from different parts of the world.

Decolonizing Infrastructure” – This podcast by Malini Ranganathan for Edge Effects introduces listeners to the ways in which access to water infrastructures in India and the US are closely linked to social identities of class, caste, race, and gender.

Not Just Roads” – This ethnographic documentary by Nitin Bathla and Klearjos Eduardo Papanicolaou about a highway construction project outside New Delhi, India foregrounds the many human and non-human lives that are implicated in large-scale infrastructure development projects.

A traditional mud house and new cement house in Kandbari Village (source: author)