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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

McFarlane, C. Postcolonial Bombay: decline of a cosmopolitan city? Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 2008;26:480-499. Reprinted with permission in the South Asian Journal for Culture (2010).

Author(s) from Durham


Discussions of cosmopolitanism in Bombay often focus on the rubrics of communal tension, tolerance, and violence, and frequently report the decline of a once cosmopolitan city, especially as a result of the communal riots and bombings that occurred in the early 1990s. However, claims that the city has undergone a general social transformation since the 1990s need to be tempered by the multiple forms of cosmopolitan imaginations and practices that exist in the city. There is a wide
variety of alternative cosmopolitan formations - not all of them progressive - reflected in civil society
organizations and lifestyle changes for different groups, and often vividly reflected in film. This paper will chart two examples of contemporary cosmopolitanism. The first part of the paper explores the cautious optimism of film in the promise of cosmopolitan Bombay during the early years of Independence, before briefly discussing how cinema later attempted to reflect the destabilizing of the postcolonial vision of urban national development. The second part of the paper begins with
discussion of the contemporary cinematic portrayal of elite-oriented global cosmopolitan modernity, and then contrasts this with a different form of global cosmopolitan modernity articulated through the work of the Slum/Shack Dwellers International network. This discussion conceives of cosmopolitanism as social, marking a counterpoint to the tendency in discourses of liberal cosmopolitanism
that emphasizes the agency of the globally aware individual. Methodologically, the paper seeks to
demonstrate that relating often analytically separate realms such as film and civil society can provide a wider politicocultural lens through which to examine urban change.

Department of Geography