My PhD thesis, ‘Appropriate infrastructure and urban sociotechnical change in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’ (2022), offers fresh insights into how infrastructure, urban development, and sociocultural contexts intersect.

Drawing on ten months of field-based research in the city of Ahmedabad, the thesis reveals the social and political lives of infrastructural systems. Ahmedabad’s urban landscape provided a revelatory setting to examine issues of appropriateness and equity – from the adaptive reuse of traditional water systems in the old city’s pols1, to the import of foreign ‘smart city’ best practices, and competing visions for developing the Sabarmati riverfront.2

Conceptually, the thesis contributes to ideas of ‘appropriate infrastructure’3 and ‘sociotechnical flânerie’4, while spotlighting three key dynamics shaping infrastructure projects: mutability (a given system’s flexibility or capacity for adaptation), mobility (the transfer of technologies, plans, and best practices between locations), and worlding (how competing visions are enacted through infrastructure). Grasping these is, I argue, a crucial step in realising more just and inclusive urban futures.

With implications for policymakers, urban practitioners, and the wider public, this research was made possible by an 1+3 ESRC studentship with the STEPS Centre, at the Institute of Development Studies.

You can download a PDF copy of the thesis here (24.8MB), or by visiting the University of Sussex research repository.

  1. Derived from the Sanskrit word ‘pratoli’, meaning gate or entrance, a pol is a self-contained neighbourhood housing people of the same caste, religion, or profession. Arranged around a central courtyard, with shared amenities including wells, common toilets, and places of worship, the pols allowed Ahmedabad’s diverse communities to coexist in close proximity, while maintaining seperate ways of life. ⤴︎

  2. Initiated in the early 2000s, the Sabarmati project set out to revitalise Ahmedabad’s waterfront, developing it as a public space featuring parks, promenades, and commercial zones. Despite its ambitions to enhance the urban environment, the project was criticised for displacing thousands of families living along the riverbanks, while prioritising the interests of the wealthy and powerful. ⤴︎

  3. Linking insights from post-war appropriate technology, the anti-colonial swadeshi movement, and grassroots innovation, the project positions ‘appropriateness’ as an evaluative lens and design criteria for infrastructure projects. ⤴︎

  4. Sociotechnical flânerie combines literary and ethnographic traditions of urban observation, adopting a street-level perspective to explore how infrastructures are experienced, negotiated, and contested in everyday life. ⤴︎