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Urbanization Seminar

Jonathan Spencer, Professor of the Anthropology of South Asia & Head of School of Social and Political Science, Social Anthropology, School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh

Chair: Charles Hallisey, Yehan Numata Senior Lecturer on Buddhist Literatures, Harvard Divinity School

Since the end of the country’s 30-year civil war in 2009, the Sri Lankan armed forces have continued to grow despite the absence of obvious military threats to the government. Under the guidance of the President’s brother, the Ministry of Defence now plays a leading role in town planning through the Urban Development Authority (which is formally part of the Ministry). Colombo has seen an aggressive programme of improvement, which started with a “war” on alleged underworld figures, has taken in the eviction of hawkers from pedestrian spaces, the creation of new leisure areas, and now would seem to involve the clearance of “sub-standard” housing, especially in places like Slave Island, an historically dense and religiously and culturally mixed area near the city centre. This talk will explore the different kinds of politics that may be at work in this moment, and ask what the project of “beautifying” Colombo might tell us about the political dynamics of postwar Sri Lanka.

Cosponsored with the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation