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Namita Vijay Dharia is an associate professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. She is an architect and anthropologist who studies urban political economy and ecology in India. Her work combines ethnographic methodologies and anthropological theory with the scalar, spatial and material approaches of architecture and design. She works across the themes of materiality and aesthetic studies, political ecology, labor studies, and planning and development politics. Dharia has practiced and taught architecture in India and the United States, worked as an architectural journalist, and collaborated on design research projects in Delhi, Allahabad, and Detroit. She is the author of the Industrial Ephemeral: Labor and love in Indian Architecture and Construction. Her second book length project studies the politics of rest in environmental and labor relations in Mumbai, India, focusing on the relationship between environment, labor, and planetary rest. 

Who are the millions of workers behind the aggressive urban metamorphosis of India in the twenty-first century? How are lives of those who construct architecture and urban areas entangled with the planning and development of the regions they build? Namita Vijay Dharia presents a cross-class ethnography of architects, planners, contractors, foremen, workers, and developers in India’s National Capital Region. She argues that an ephemeral atmospheric condition governs the workings of the construction industry: Ephemeral atmospheres (created through the transformation of materials and circulations of people) are not epiphenomenal to industrial operations; rather, they undergird labor politics, planning and financial systems, and operating strategies in construction. The personal histories and experiences of India’s Muslim and non-dominant caste workers reveal the politics of labor and class hierarchies in design industries and challenge canonical ways of reading architecture. Worker critiques of the industry force architects to visualize a class-equitable profession that acknowledges the labor and creativity of all those who build. The talk is based on fifteen months of ethnographic research in NCR. 

This event is part of the State of Architecture in South Asia initiative.