Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This paper describes how bodies get immobilized in gaps of urban infrastructure, and reflects on the forms of living and dying that ensue as a consequence. It explores the phenomenon of holes in roads in Mumbai, an everpresent feature of transit infrastructure that anchors broader civic discontent about the limits of urban mobility. But holes in roads also implicate lives quite literally. A motorcycle's wheel hits a pothole, sending its riders tumbling towards traumatic brain injury. In heavy rains, people disappear down uncovered manholes. Residents of Mumbai regularly observe that ruptures in the city's fabric manifest the neglect of life and the indifference to death. They assert that holes in the city are swallowing people alive.
The paper argues that understanding rupture is essential for understanding urban trauma. It explores several cases of linked urban and somatic rupture centered around holes in the road, and has several key conclusions. First, it asserts that bodies are inextricable from infrastructure, although these two forms are generally considered distinct in urban theory. Second, it demonstrates how people understand and critique the deathly features of urban mobility. Third, it considers how the study of urban biopolitics might benefit from a focus on neglect and injury. To grapple with the tension between mobility and living, then, requires grappling with breaches of both human and urban surfaces.