Dissertation Abstracts

Urban Lakes as Contested Social Spaces: The Urban Transformation of Lakes in Bangalore

Author: Akash Jash, ajash.ju@gmail.com
Department: Sociology
University: Institute for Social and Economic Change, India
Supervisor: Dr. Lekha Subaiya
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Urban Lakes , Political Economy of Space , Spatial Imagination , Colonial Governance
Areas of Research: Regional and Urban Development , Housing and Built Environment , Institutional Ethnography


This dissertation examines the evolution of lakes as public spaces in Bengaluru amidst urbanization, focusing on their transformation from communal social spaces to regulated urban areas. The central argument of the thesis is twofold. Firstly, it asserts that the urbanization of lakes in Bengaluru has fundamentally changed their spatial perception, converting them from commons into controlled urban spaces. Secondly, it contends that this transformation has generated various social and political conflicts and contestations over the city's lakes and lakebeds. The thesis aims to shed light on these contestations and movements, emphasizing the voices of those who inhabit and interact with the lakes in their daily lives. The initial part of the argument traces the historical significance of lakes in Bengaluru, which dates back to the 6th century AD during the Ganga dynasty. The thesis highlights that the notion of commons extends beyond a resource-based approach and encompasses the broader cultural, social, and political importance of such spaces. The diverse usage and practices over time transformed tanks into vital social spaces, which underwent significant changes with the advent of colonial urbanization in the mid-nineteenth century. The British administration imposed its own governance and transformed many tanks into urban recreational lakes, aligning them with the planned boulevards and broadways of Bangalore. These changes led to the loss of the commons' identity and marked the beginning of the exclusionary urbanization process. The second phase of transformation occurred in the 1970s, coinciding with the rise of the IT industry in Bengaluru. Privatization and the conversion of lakes into built environments further altered the notion of lakes as urban spaces. This change generated social and political contestations, including encroachments, restrictions on access, and conflicts of interest among stakeholders. The thesis employs the theoretical lens of the political economy of space and place to explore the role of the State and global capital in reproducing lakes as neoliberal urban spaces, reinforcing marginalization and exclusion. The thesis reveals that the lakes produced in this manner represent a "conceived space" shaped by planners, economists, and politicians. However, it argues that the politics of space are continuously at play, manifesting in the everyday material and social practices surrounding lakes. By examining conflicts and resistance through ethnographic studies and engaging with social movements, the thesis explores the narratives of the diverse group of Actors who (used to) live by the lakes in their everyday lives. The thesis aims to advocate for the recognition of social benefits through active participation, rejecting capitalist state power's encroachment on these common resources. This research contributes to the understanding of public spaces in urban areas and prompts further exploration of "publicness" and the production of inclusive urban spaces worldwide.