Housing Temporalities: State Narratives and Precarity in the Global South

Ruchika Lall  | 2022


In the Global South, urban space is appropriated through diverse informal housing arrangements, with characteristic inherent and relational temporalities. While these forms of housing often consolidate through incremental growth, change in materials and perceived security, they also exist precariously through changing circumstances. While some urban scholars have discussed the characteristic in-betweenness of informality, others have noted the conceptual tension that policy holds in addressing this temporality. This article builds on these discussions to argue that the temporality within and across diverse informal housing arrangements matters not due to the ways in which it manifests, but due to what happens within it as a space of transformation, that is, of socio-economic and political mobility. It draws from literature across disciplines on mobilities, poverty and capabilities to posit that a conceptual frame of choice and agency is key to policy engagement with housing temporalities. The article locates this discussion in the city of Delhi, where cycles of evictions have broken large ‘slum’ clusters, or bastis, into further spatial and temporal configurations. The article uses two distinct housing models to illustrate narratives of the state across two sites: Savda Ghevra, a case of peripheral resettlement; and Kathputli Colony, a case of in-situ redevelopment. It reveals how the state not only does not recognise the temporality of self-made housing practices, but also sets into motion temporalities that, through the absence of choice and agency, create conditions for precarity, highlighting the need to keep choice and agency central to discourses on housing and well-being.