Interdisciplinary Conference: Urban South Asia Writ Small

An aerial view of Jahazpur, a city in India.
Aerial view of Jahazpur, India. photo / Ann Gold
Two cows laying down behind three motorcycles and a jeep on a dirt road.
Street scene from a small city in India. photo / Ann Gold
An aerial view of a busy street market.
A street market in India. photo / Ann Gold
Two little girls with oversized backpacks walking down the street.
School children in a town in India. photo / Ann Gold
Aerial view of Jahazpur, India. photo / Ann Gold Street scene from a small city in India. photo / Ann Gold A street market in India. photo / Ann Gold School children in a town in India. photo / Ann Gold


"Urban South Asia Writ Small" draws together expertise from anthropology, architecture, economics, the fine arts, history, and religious studies in order to investigate the heart of South Asia's urban development. South Asian urban modernity has mostly been understood through the lifestyles and challenges of globally linked metros. What form is modernity taking in smaller cities and towns that straddle the global as well as the rural-urban divide differently from the metros? Preliminary studies indicate that poverty is deeper and more widespread in smaller towns and that rates of access to services and amenities are considerably lower. Yet, we know little of the dynamic processes that link city size to the prevalence of poverty and, perhaps, inequality.

This conference will examine a range of issues facing ordinary cities and towns in South Asia today. An edited publication will follow, and collaborative research projects explored and taken forward between conference conveners, speakers, and participants.


  • Carol Babiracki, director, South Asia Center, Syracuse University
  • Ann Gold, department of anthropology, Syracuse University
  • Dan Gold, Asian studies, Cornell University 
  • Neema Kudva, city and regional planning, Cornell University
This conference is funded by the South Asia Program; Society for the Humanities; Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies; International Planning Students Organization; the Department of City and Regional Planning at the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning at Cornell University; the South Asia Center at Syracuse University; and the Cornell-Syracuse South Asia National Resource Center.


Friday, April 20

Aam Admi: An Exhibition of Photographs of Karachi, Pakistan, by Naila Mahmoud
Curated by Iftikhar Dadi, history of art, Cornell University
Milstein Hall dome, Milstein Hall
The exhibition will also feature books, maps, photographs, videos, and other relevant artifacts from Cornell University's collections, and will shift to room 101 in A. D. White House on Saturday.

3–4 p.m.
Keynote Address: "Jahazpur Passages: Thinking through a Rajasthan Market Town"

Ann Gold, department of anthropology, Syracuse University
Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium, Milstein Hall

Opening Remarks: Anne Blackburn, director, South Asia Program, Cornell University

Introduction: Carol Babiracki, director, South Asia Center, Syracuse University

4–5 p.m.
Roundtable Discussion: "Why Small Cities Matter"

Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium, Milstein Hall

  • Carol Babiracki, director, South Asia Center, Syracuse University
  • Ann Gold, department of anthropology, Syracuse University
  • Dan Gold, Asian studies, Cornell University
  • Neema Kudva, city and regional planning, Cornell University

5–6 p.m.

Milstein Hall dome, Milstein Hall

8 p.m.
Film Screening: Superman of Malegaon

The screening will be followed by an interview with director Faiza Ahmad Khan.
Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium, Milstein Hall

Saturday, April 21

Aam Admi: An Exhibition of Photographs of Karachi, Pakistan, by Naila Mahmoud
Room 101, A. D. White House
The exhibition will also feature books, maps, photographs, videos, and other relevant artifacts from Cornell University's collections.

9 a.m.–6 p.m.

A. D. White House

9–10:45 a.m.
Panel One: "Small Cities in the Archive"

  • Michael Sinclair Dodson, history, Indiana University: "Place Without Archive: Some Thoughts on Mirzapur and Absence"
  • Emera Bridger Wilson, South Asia Center, Syracuse University: "Build It and They Will Come: (Re)imagining Bharatpur's Tourism Industry"
  • Nidhi Subramanyam, city and regional planning, Cornell University: "Provincializing Sanitation: The Impacts of Colonial-Era Sanitary Reforms on Small Cities in Southern India"
  • Moderator: Robert Travers, history, Cornell University

10:45–11 a.m.
Coffee Break

11 a.m.–12:45 p.m.
Panel Two: "Growth, Development, and Planning in Small Cities"

  • Anjum Altaf: "Some Reflections on the Development of Small Cities in Pakistan"
  • Amita Bhide, School of Habitat Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai: " The Small Town in India: Deciphering Directions of Change"
  • Eric Denis, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Panthéon-Sorbonne University and French Institute of Pondicherry: "Subaltern Urbanization in India: On the Diversity of Small Town Trajectories"
  • Farhana Ahmad, city and regional planning, Cornell University: "Urbanization Without Industrialization — What Does it Mean for Water Supply?"
  • Moderator: Hayden Kantor, anthropology, Cornell University

12:45–1:45 p.m.
Lunch Break

1:45–2:30 p.m.
Documentary Screening: Hippopotamus Street (2015)

The screening will be followed by a discussion moderated by filmmaker Dan Gold, Asian studies, Cornell University.

2:30–4:15 p.m.
Panel Three: Modernity and Change in the Provincial City

  • William Glover, history, University of Michigan: "Toward a History of Agrarian Urbanism"
  • Luke Heslop, anthropology, London School of Economics: "Keeping Pace with the Nation: A Small Town Synecdoche"
  • Carter Higgins, Asian studies, Cornell University: "A Village Between Towns and Cities: Sevā, Development, and Pilgrimage in Northern India"
  • Moderator: Joanne Waghorne, religion, Syracuse University

4:15–4:30 p.m.
Coffee Break

4:30–5 p.m.
Closing Remarks

Neema Kudva, city and regional planning, Cornell University


Farhana Ahmad

headshot of a woman with brown hairFarhana Ahmad is a third-year Ph.D. student in the city and regional planning department at Cornell. She is interested in how institutions in small and medium-sized cities respond to water shortages and other environmental changes, and the role of planning in this process. Her research is shaped by her own experiences at the World Bank Bangladesh managing its large portfolio of projects. She received a bachelor's degree in economics from Grinnell College and a master's degree in public policy from the University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. In her spare time, Ahmad loves to read and travel.

Anjum Altaf

headshot of a man in a white shirt and blue sport coat Anjum Altaf was a professor of economics and dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). He was also provost and vice-president at Habib University in Karachi. He is presently a research fellow at LUMS and at the Consortium for Development Policy Research in Lahore and a director on the board of the Urban Unit, a public sector company established by the government of Punjab. Altaf had earlier worked in the East Asia Urban Development Unit at the World Bank in Washington, DC. He obtained a Ph.D. in engineering-economic systems and an M.A. in economics from Stanford University.

Amita Bhide

headshot of a woman with dark hair wearing a white shawl and pink shirtAmita Bhide is currently professor and dean, School of Habitat Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). She has been teaching and researching at the institute for more than 20 years. She has been deeply involved in issues of urban poverty, livelihoods, and advocacy linked to the same in Mumbai and in other cities in India. She has contributed to social movements and to various committees of the state government on the subjects of housing and poverty. She directs the Transforming M ward project — an effort of TISS to transform the deeply debilitating living conditions in the M East ward of Mumbai and to promote a model of sustainable urban development. Bhide's recent work at the School of Habitat Studies has been on urban governance reforms, housing, and land issues with a focus on small and medium towns and urban violence. Her recent publications include "The Regularising State," "Comparing Informalities," and "Colonising the Slum."

Carol Babiracki

headshot of a woman with short hair and glassesBabiracki received a Ph.D. in musicology/ethnomusicology from the University of Illinois and is now an associate professor in music history and cultures at Syracuse University. Her interests include South Asian music and dance, ethnic and immigrant music and dance in the U.S., and music of the Middle East. At Syracuse, she teaches classes including Introduction to World Music, Music in Multicultural America, Music and Dance in India, and Worlds of Dance.

Anne Blackburn

headshot of a woman with short hair, glasses, wearing a scarf Anne M. Blackburn is a professor of South Asia studies and Buddhist studies in the Department of Asian Studies at Cornell University, and director of the Cornell University South Asia Program. She taught at the University of South Carolina before joining Cornell's faculty. She received her B.A. from Swarthmore College, and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago. Blackburn studies Buddhism in South and Southeast Asia, with a special interest in Buddhist monastic culture and Buddhist participation in networks linking Sri Lanka and mainland Southeast Asia before and during colonial presence in the region. Her publications include Buddhist Learning and Textual Practice in Eighteenth-Century Lankan Monastic Culture (Princeton, 2001); Approaching the Dhamma: Buddhist Texts and Practices in South and Southeast Asia, coedited with Jeffrey Samuels (BPS Pariyatti Editions, 2003); and Locations of Buddhism: Colonialism and Modernity in Sri Lanka (Chicago, 2010).

Jeff Chusid

headshot of a man with a beardJeffrey M. Chusid is an architect and planner with current research interests that include the fate of historic resources in areas of cultural exchange and conflict, the conservation of modernist architecture in India, historic cements, and sustainable development. His writings can be found in journals, museum catalogs, and several texts. Chusid has consulted on public policy, resource conservation, and urban design for diverse communities such as Shanghai, China; Sevastopol, Ukraine; Levuka, Fiji; and Bastrop, Texas. He has also consulted on building and landscape preservation for numerous museums including the Huntington and Hearst Castle. Chusid received his A.B. in environmental design and his M.Arch. from the University of California–Berkeley in 1978 and 1982.

Eric Denis

headshot of a man with a beard wearing a light brown shirt Eric Denis holds a Ph.D. in urban and economic geography from the University of Caen, France, and a habilitation à diriger des recherches from Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne University. He is a senior research fellow at the French National Center for Scientific Research, and director of research at the Géographie-cités Lab, Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne University. Based in Cairo for more than a decade (1993–2003), he has also worked in Sudan. Currently, he conducts collaborative research on small towns in India. His studies concern metropolitan changes, the social division of urban territories, and the evolution of systems of cities with a particular focus on land transformations and international comparisons. He has authored more than 60 papers and books, including Villes et urbanisation de l'Egypte (2007), and Subaltern Urbanization in India (2017). His current research contributes to decenter our understanding of urban dynamics by claiming small towns where half of the urban citizens generate their living. His inquiries in subaltern urbanization, shared with a large network of researchers in India, constitute an invitation to reappreciate our conceptual model of urbanization and complexify the canonical picture where large urban regions and global cities occupy the whole scene.

Michael S. Dodson

man in a dark blue shirt with a goatee Michael S. Dodson is an associate professor of South Asian history at Indiana University–Bloomington (IU). He is director of the Dhar India Studies Program at IU and is the academic director of IU's overseas campus in New Delhi. Dodson's current book project, tentatively titled The City is a Form of Belonging: Urbanism in Colonial North India, 1880-1920, examines the roles of bureaucracy and colonial governance in creating urban meaning around the turn of the 20th century, focusing on the cities of Banaras and Jaunpur, in particular. His first book, Orientalism, Empire, and National Culture (2007) was a study of Indian Sanskrit pandits who found work in colonial education. He has also edited Banaras: Urban Forms and Cultural Histories (2011), a book of essays and photographs, and Trans-Colonial Modernities in South Asia (2012).

William Glover

man with a beard wearing a black shirt and grey jacket William Glover is a professor of modern South Asian history at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Making Lahore Modern: Constructing and Imagining a Colonial City (University of Minnesota Press, 2008), and of several articles exploring the imbrication of built environments, knowledge cultures, and urban processes in South Asia. Glover's current research questions how socioeconomic concepts and practices deployed under the rubric of development have intersected with and helped shape physical designs for the proper organization of social life, particularly those designs that have explicitly problematized differences between rural and urban milieus.

Ann Gold

headshot of a woman with curly hair and glassesAnn Grodzins Gold is the Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion and a professor of anthropology at Syracuse University. During the 2014–15 academic year she held fellowship awards from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Humanities Center to support writing a book, Shiptown: Between Rural and Urban North India (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017). Gold's earlier publications include numerous articles and four books — Fruitful Journeys: The Ways of Rajasthani Pilgrims (1988), A Carnival of Parting: The Tales of King Bharthari and King Gopi Chand (1992), Listen to the Heron's Words: Reimagining Gender and Kinship in North India (1994, coauthored with Gloria Raheja), and In the Time of Trees and Sorrows: Nature, Power and Memory in Rajasthan (2002, coauthored with Bhoju Ram Gujar), which, in 2004 was awarded the Ananda Kentish Coomaraswamy Book Prize from the Association for Asian Studies.

Daniel Gold

headshot of a smiling man wearing a white shirt and tan jacketDaniel Gold received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1982 and is a professor of South Asian religions and chair of the Department of Asian Studies at Cornell University. He has worked on Hindi sants, Rajasthani Naths, Hindu fundamentalism, and problems of writing on religion. His most recent book, Provincial Hinduism (Oxford, 2015) examines turn of the 21st-century popular religion in the midsized city of Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, a place that he first became acquainted with while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer from 1968 to 1972. His other books include The Lord as Guru: Hindi Sants in North Indian Tradition (Oxford, 1987) and Aesthetics and Analysis in Writing on Religion (University of California Press, 2003).

Luke Heslop

profile of a man wearing a white shirt on a terracotta floorLuke Heslop is a fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Edinburgh and has done extensive ethnographic research in Sri Lanka and the Maldives. His doctoral work focused on trade and mercantile kinship in South Asia, and his recent research focus has been on infrastructure and connectivity in the Indian Ocean. Heslop has published articles on trade, money, kinship, and family businesses in Sri Lanka, and is currently preparing his monograph, titled In a Merchant's House, for publication.

Carter Higgins

headshot of a man with brown hair and beard Carter Hawthorne Higgins is currently a visiting scholar at the South Asia Program, Cornell University. He graduated from Cornell with a Ph.D. in Asian literature, religion, and culture in 2016, and has held academic positions at the National University of Singapore and Wake Forest University. His first publication appeared in the Journal of Ritual Studies in 2016, and he is working to finish his first book manuscript, titled Saintly Investments: Pilgrimage Development and Contemporary Hinduism in India.

Neema Kudva

headshot of a woman with black hair and a black v-neck shirtNeema Kudva's research focuses on international urbanization, particularly issues related to small cities and their regions, and on institutional structures for equitable planning and development at the local level. She has explored various aspects of the role of public agencies and nongovernmental organizations in planning and development, primarily in South Asia but also in the U.S. Kudva directs the International Studies in Planning program and is the faculty lead for the Nilgiris Field Learning Center, a collaborative program of Cornell University and the Keystone Foundation, India. At Cornell, she is affiliated with the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, the South Asia Studies Program at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, the Visual Studies Program, and is a faculty fellow at Carl Becker House. Prior to joining CRP in 2001, she worked as a planning consultant to public agencies in San Francisco and as an architect in India and Europe. Kudva received her Dip.Arch. from the school of architecture at Ahmedabad, India, in 1989 and her M.Arch./M.C.P. and Ph.D. from the University of California–Berkeley in 2001.

Nidhi Subramanyam

headshot of a woman with black hair wearing a white shirt and black jacket Nidhi Subramanyam (M.R.P. '14) is a doctoral student in city and regional planning at Cornell from Mumbai, India. Her research examines the scalar politics of urban environmental governance and water-sanitation service provision in intermediate cities in the global South, particularly in India and South Africa. Before coming to Cornell, Subramanyam worked with the Climate Change and Water program at Canada's International Development Research Centre. She has a bachelor of architecture from the University of Mumbai and a master of regional planning from Cornell University.

Emera Bridger Wilson

headshot of a woman with her hair pulled back wearing a red shirtEmera Bridger Wilson is an economic anthropologist interested in the social meaning of work in North India. She received her Ph.D. in anthropology from Syracuse University, where she is the associate director of the Syracuse University South Asia Center. Her dissertation examined issues of work, livelihood, and identity among the authorized cycle rickshaw drivers at Keoladeo National Park in Bharatpur, Rajasthan. Her forthcoming project will examine ritual economies of gurudwaras, particularly on how ideas of religious service (sevā) articulate with other forms of economic activities.