Development Studies Lecture Series: India's Rentier Economy - The case of Dholera Smart City

Date: 22 February 2022

Time: 4 pm

Bio of the Speaker:

Preeti Sampat is a cultural anthropologist and teaches sociology in Dr. B. R. Ambedkar University Delhi. She is currently Urban Studies Foundation International Fellow at the Department of Geography in the University of Manchester.


A growing 'rentier economy' is driving urbanisation infrastructure projects without distributive linkages with industrialisation. This rentier economy brings within its purview, in varying combinations, land, urbanization and infrastructure policy, speculative land markets, real estate and other urban infrastructure investments by global and domestic investors, private consultants and developers, interests within the state at various levels, and large landowners willing and able to benefit from rentier activity at least temporarily. The rentier economy hinges crucially on ownership of land, or access to it. There is a need to distinguish rent-driven urbanisation and infrastructure projects from industrialisation and concomitant job-creation, despite their conflation in policy rhetoric. The transition to industrialisation and jobs that such projects promise to unleash remains elusive as Indian manufacturing and industrialization stagnate over three decades; and rentier-driven dispossession threatens existing political economies around land.  

In this talk I interrogate the social, political, economic, discursive and aesthetic erasures of Dholera smart city. Rent from appreciating land values and eventually fixed capital as built space, plays a critical role in the push for the project. How can we theorize the growing role of rent (as opposed to other forms of productive returns) in urbanization and infrastructure development, as well as in contemporary processes of accumulation and dispossession? As resistance brews in the region, contingent alliances (or rifts) along caste, class and gender hierarchies are formed in confrontation with oppositional interests in the state allied in anticipation of capital. How can we theorize the local responses to the anticipated futures of greenfield smart cities?