ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The planned sub-city and the chaotic bazaar: Contradictions and anxieties in middle-class consumption practices in Delhi


Pani Samprati - Max Weber Forum for South Asian Studies, Delhi, India


25 – Thinking with markets: Practices and codes of engagement in South Asian economic milieus


Consumption studies in the South Asian context have focused  on transformations in the infrastructure  of consumption through the coming up of new retail spaces such as malls and supermarkets. These spaces are seen as rupturing forms of consumption located in streets and bazaars, refashioning middle-class identities and the spatiality of cities in the process. This paper argues that organized retail does not automatically transform the middle class into a homogeneous globalized elite. Focusing on the provisioning practices of middle-class residents of the planned sub-city of Dwarka in Delhi, the paper unravels contradictions in their anxieties about street commerce. The residents’ desire for fresh vegetables entails both revulsion towards and dependence on informal weekly bazaars. Through their associations, residents have been struggling to regulate these bazaars, sometimes even getting them removed, and then curiously petitioning the authorities to get them back. Modern retail outlets too stir up various fears among the middle-class, of being tricked into buying stale vegetables, of the driving out of cheaper alternatives and ‘traditional’ markets. Through an intersection of class and neighbourhood, the paper examines how anxieties around buying vegetables gets entangled with claims of citizenship. Contradictions within middle-class aspirations allow the continued negotiation of weekly bazaars, making the economic milieu of the city malleable to everyday life.