Event — IIAS Lunch Lecture

The condition of displaceability: insights from the urban margins of Calcutta

Lunch Lecture by Aditi Mukherjee, post-doctoral fellow at IIAS.

This lecture is held in the IIAS conference room from 12:00 - 13:00 Amsterdam Time (CET).

The Lecture

In this lecture, Aditi Mukherjee will discuss the everyday lives of Bengal's rural poor at the urban margins of Calcutta, India, who are derogatorily labelled as 'vagrants' or 'homeless'. She traces how they live through cycles of dispossession and displacement, utilising and expanding on the concept of displaceability (Yiftachel 2020).


Aditi Mukherjee looks at the struggle for spaces of livelihood of a group of rural migrants who flock to the urban margins of the Calcutta metropolitan area from the countryside of West Bengal, India, in search of livelihood and their negotiation of myriad forms of displacements.

Her research spans an extended timeframe, from the late 1940s to the present. Despite a growing numerical presence in the Bengal region from around the 1940s, these impoverished migrants have faced discursive erasure in migration histories and policy circles. They concentrate in marginal spaces like canal side shanties and pavements and are variedly labelled as 'vagrants', 'squatters' and 'homeless' and seen to 'encroach' on urban lands. 

Aditi looks into the politics of space and everyday dislocations that unfold around these migrant quarters through the concept of displaceability (Yiftachel 2020). She traces how displaceability operates in this group. First, through a deliberate politics of (non)enumeration and invisibilisation and, simultaneously, through a hypervisibility generated by a developmental gaze that construes them as 'encroachers' and renders them vulnerable to dislocations. She outlines the functioning of displaceability and the sort of unequal political exchanges it involves for the peripatetic rural migrants, whereby they are reduced to mere bodily existence.

Aditi Mukherjee's study shows that migrants are seldom the passive recipient of policy, and this condition is refracted by the actions of the migrants themselves at the level of bodies in the collective. Her study draws on five months of ethnographic fieldwork in Calcutta (December 2017-March 2018 and July-August 2022) and interaction with roughly 40 research participants.

The Speaker

Aditi Mukherjee is a post-doctoral fellow at the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) at Leiden University and an Assistant Professor in History at the GITAM University, Vishakhapatnam. She has completed her PhD from Leiden University (The Netherlands) with an Erasmus Mundus Fellowship. Aditi Mukherjee has previously worked with research institutes like the Institute of Development Studies (Kolkata) and the Calcutta Research Group (Kolkata) and was a Tata Trust Research Fellow at the 1947 Partition Archive. She has published on the themes of displacement and citizenship in India. Her broad research interests include processes of third-world urbanism, displacement, citizenship and gender.

Registration (required)

Registration is required as seating is limited and a lunch box will be provided to registered attendees. Please use the registration form on this page.