I was the only planner or member of the field of city and regional planning in the 2018 Einaudi-SSRC DPD cohort at Cornell University. As planners constitute a mere handful of prior DPD or IDRF winners, I was anxious about how my peers would interact with my ideas and the scholarship that I was engaging with in my relatively marginal field. Most people know of the planning profession and associate it with much harm across the world; very few know about the planning discipline or its contributions. As a discipline, planning is distinguished by its inherent normativity and concern with action—a feature that few nonplanners empathize with.
In its infancy at the first DPD workshop, my dissertation project focused on investigating a public-private partnership to develop water infrastructure in a small city called Tiruppur in southern India. Through this case, I was seeking to understand the ways in which infrastructure deficiencies that were more widespread across India’s small towns were a function of their governance or the ways in which state and non-state actors acted collectively to plan the city. Applying their various disciplinary lenses, my DPD peers pointed out that my project had the potential to make broader contributions beyond its then narrow focus on an infrastructure partnership in a single city. Ethnographers asked me to define and clarify concepts like “small city,” “governance,” “public,” “private,” and “infrastructure” using both interlocutors’ narratives and policy or scholarly definitions to stake out my interventions clearly. They asked me to foreground the social and material significance of water infrastructure in my case context since Tiruppur is a global hub for textile production. Historians demanded a sharper historicization of concepts and practices, while political scientists pushed me to articulate the significance of emergent governance practices in Tiruppur in relation to broader changes in the national and global political economy. A sociologist of labor urged me to interrogate the different kinds of capital operating in Tiruppur’s textile industry and the multiple logics that shaped their operations to explain the genesis of the public-private partnership in Tiruppur. Overall, everyone offered writing suggestions to make my case findings and theoretical interventions more explicit to a nonexpert.
Through the DPD program, I observed that my peers tried to balance their theoretical and methodological critiques, which were typically rooted in their particular disciplinary training, with empathy for my scholarly interests that had emerged through debates in planning theory and practice. As a result, I came away from the interdisciplinary, peer-learning environment with a greater appreciation for the role of disciplines in structuring academic queries, research, and writing, and in our broader socialization as academics-in-formation. Thanks to my DPD experience and generous comments from my peers, my post-fieldwork dissertation is shaping up as an ethnography of urban growth in Tiruppur. I trace the interplay of state actors and local capitalists in governance and water infrastructure development in the post-liberalization period to analyze how it produces particular conceptions, realizations, and lived experiences of economic and territorial growth in Tiruppur. In my analysis, I unpack how governance has been uniquely shaped by Tiruppur’s small city context as it has evolved over time.
Whereas the feedback that I received during the DPD program took many months to germinate in my thinking and writing, I am grateful for the opportunity as it helped me develop the vocabulary and ethos to engage and converse productively across disciplinary differences. It also allowed me to discover the many ways in which concepts from other disciplines could be brought to bear on debates and problems within planning. The DPD program has enabled me to situate myself and my work in relation to various disciplinary positions as I advance in my academic journey.
All views presented here are my own. I am grateful to the workshop coordinators, professors Ray Craib and Neema Kudva, and the rest of my DPD cohort for creating an enriching learning experience.