Emerging Geographies of Hinterland: Chennai as a City, Metropolis, Region and what else?
Talk by Pushpa Arabindoo (2017-2018 Paris IAS fellow) within the framework of the Global South Studies Center public lectures at the University of Cologne
Amidst recent preoccupations to gain a better conceptual understanding of peripheral urbanisation, this paper makes a case for exploring the hinterland as a critical analytical category to capture the unfolding processes of contemporary (capitalist) urban transformations. Arguing that the hinterland goes beyond the established binaries of twentieth-century urbanism where the notion of centre and periphery are still tied to the increasingly questionable urban/rural distinction, it maintains that the hinterland is central to recent efforts in generating a new epistemology of the urban. I will explore what this means beyond a theoretical abstraction through my ongoing research in the Indian city of Chennai, where an intricate network of new economic geography plying its hinterland requires us to abandon our conventional understandings of Chennai as a city, metropolis or region. More importantly, what the hinterland demands is not a mere rescaling of the urban question, but addressing the renewed geographies of uneven development that are more a consequence of a murky politics of the ‘land question’. Even as its multiscalar geography creates all kinds of planning quandaries, Chennai’s hinterland reveals an operational landscape where an abstract network of logistics and global supply chains takes precedence in a territorial neo-colonisation that extends beyond the expanding interests of the city. There are methodological challenges related to how one undertakes a study of this expanded scale as we are compelled to draw on different kinds of urban imaginations ranging from the physiology of landscape and ecology to the politics of land and territory.