HTC Forum: Namita Vijay Dharia The Labor of Architecture: the politics and materialities of Indian construction sites.

Part of the MIT Fall 2023 Architecture Lecture Series. Presented in collaboration with the History Theory and Criticism Program.

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 materialities and spaces they work in? How can design and construction be more equitable processes? Namita Vijay Dharia presents a cross-class ethnography of architects, planners, contractors, foremen, workers, and developers in India’s National Capital Region (NCR). In her presentation Dharia, analyzes the dominant materialities and aesthetics on construction sites to demonstrate the ways in which they intertwine with laboring experience. Dharia locates herself on the construction site to observe the social processes that emerge through the formation of architecture and the inequities that frame design. 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 and operating strategies in construction. The heat of steel, the constant clouds of dust, the electrical sparks on construction sites, are not mere metaphors but material environments that link to political subjectivity and laboring strife. Dharia makes her case by considering three key forms of life interlinked with the production of atmospheres in construction work: mazdoori, majboori, and jugaad, that is, the politics of labor, necessity, and precarity on construction sites. The presentation is based on fifteen months of ethnographic research in NCR.

Namita Dharia is a socio-cultural anthropologist and architect who does research on urban South Asia. Her interest in urban areas developed during her studies and career as an architect and urban designer in India in the late ’90s. Dharia moved to conduct ethnographic research on the construction industry in order to understand the field through a critical lens and challenge core assumptions of design and designers. Dharia researches urban areas through a scalar methodology. She moves between the scale of a single individual in the city to that of objects and architectures to urban infrastructures and regions.

An interdisciplinary scholar, Dharia is interested in bridging design, planning and social science methodologies and theories. Dharia works with students and studios in design departments to deepen the analytical and social justice aspects of projects. She experiments with the creative energies architecture and urban planning to challenge representation and form in anthropological thought.

Dharia conducted research in cities across northeast India, north India, central India and west India. Her research collaborations include a study of large-scale temporary cities and architectures such as the Kumbh Mela festival city that assembles and disassembles within the span of three months and ethnographic design projects in Detroit. 

Namita Vijay Dharia is Associate Professor of Political Economy in the Department of History, Philosophy, and Social Sciences at Rhode Island School of Design.

Her new book is: The Industrial Ephemeral Labor and Love in Indian Architecture and Construction.

Lectures are free and open to the public. Lectures will be held Thursdays at 6 PM ET in 7-429 (Long Lounge) and streamed online unless otherwise noted. Registration required to attend in-person. Register here or watch the webcast on Youtube

HTC Forum is made possible through the generosity of Thomas Beischer and the Lipstadt-Stieber Fund.