There is an increasing number of studies about the similarities in cities and their structures, especially after neo-liberal reforms in developing countries since the 1990s. Despite these similarities, which resemble a uniform global market in some pockets, it is impossible to miss every city's specificity in terms of geography, structures, and people. Geography and structures do not need to be viewed linearly as inert buildings but merge with the people in the city, such as the Marine Drive Walkway or Lighthouse in Kochi that are like the city's living skin, through which people sweat and breathe as they wade through their everyday lives.

A comparatively small port city like Kochi, whose development and growth is tied to boundaries beyond the land can be seen as a continuum of urbanities in terms of its history, geography and people. The multiple geographies and structures, which consist of islands and the wetlands in Kochi, live through a rhythm and flow by acquiring meanings and lives in relation to the people who inhabit these spaces.

Carmel's book project discusses the embodied geographies of Kochi through the ethnographic accounts of city dwellers’ experience of development and also by looking at various art practices.

Previous project at IIAS

A City by the Sea: Spatial Segregation, Christianity and Fishermen in Kochi
01-12-2018 to 30-09-2019

Cities have been studied extensively in various disciplines such as geography, anthropology, literary studies, sociology, development studies, policy studies and so on. There has been much scope for understanding cities through the lens of tradition/ modernity, backwardness/ development, culture/ economy and so on. My initial research interest in the city was guided by these readings coupled with my interest in better understanding Kochi, the Southwestern port city of India.

The Arabian sea has brought traders, colonisers and missionaries to the shores of Kochi, all of whom influenced the creation of the city as it is today. Kochi’s peculiar geographical location and transnational borders distinctively mark its development from other similar cities in India.

One of the fastest-growing cities and a popular tourism destination in South India, Kochi has historic pockets such as Fort Kochi and Mattancherry, naturally beautiful islands in the backwaters and the industrial nerve centre of Ernakulam with sky-scrapers beaming amidst the wetlands. Like any other city in the developing world, Kochi has its own stories of displacement, marginalisation and economic progress. My further readings and fieldwork opened pathways to understanding cities in relation to people’s emotional connection to spaces, not merely by singularly analyzing the built environment. Spatial arrangement and reorganization of the city holds within itself people’s memories and lived experiences of material and cultural development. My project takes off from this point to capture the affective memories and lived experience of displaced communities in the ever-expanding city of Kochi.

In my previous research, I have extensively worked on gender/ sexuality and caste in the public space with a focus on vernacular sites. After my first monograph, Sexuality and Public Space in India: Reading the Visible (2017), and some articles on caste, gender/ sexuality and media, this is my next major project. This project is, in some ways, in continuum with my interest in space as a significant site of politics and knowledge, yet different in terms of methods and frameworks from my earlier works which I think makes it more exciting for me to grapple with.