The sudden stardom of the third world city
Rana Dasgupta has just published an essay of the same name on his site in which he explores the devellopments behind the recent rise to media stardom of cities like Johannisburg, Bombay, Caracas, Lagos and Nairobi. from the essay:
Dismissive talk of Chinese “sweatshops” that would never meet EU regulations does nothing to dispel the sense of a stupendous fertility, for the contents of every western household are “Made in China”, and most Europeans and Americans are so entirely ignorant about how things are made that the production of the objects in their lives seems a kind of Asian alchemy. There is more: the Third-World city has many economies, not just one, and even this they are exporting. Large parts of western cities are now gleefully given over to an international pirate economy of CDs, DVDs, computer software and branded goods manufactured in Lagos or Shenzhen at almost the same time as the Parisian and Californian originals, and almost to the same quality.
[…] The happy fiction of Europe’s robust liberalism is in severe doubt as it fails even to accommodate a single group of dissenters: politically articulate Muslims who wish to assert a different vision of social life and law. Compared to this, my adopted city of Delhi, which has its own disputes and violence, seems positively tranquil when one reflects that it must balance the life demands of 15 million people with so many languages and cosmologies, and such varied notions of commerce, law, healthcare and education, that they are not a “population” in the European sense at all. “When will all the camels and cows depart, when will all these strange human varieties finally be banished and India become modern?” tourists ask. They forget two crucial truths - first, that Europe’s centuries-long project to banish all life forms it could not understand or empathise with was a destructively violent process; second, and most importantly, that Delhi already is modern, and this - all this - is what it looks like. It is an alternative kind of modernity: a swirling, agglomerative kind that seems, at this point in history, to be more capable than the western version of sustaining radical diversity - to be better equipped, perhaps, for the principle of globalisation.
This brings us to the most perverse suspicion of all. Perhaps the Third-World city is more than simply the source of the things that will define the future, but actually is the future of the western city.
Go read the entire text here.