The Subversion of Spaces of Nationalism: The Violence of the Innocent Mall

Dr Manu Sobti4

4The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Australia

The spaces of nationalism – historically identified, mnemonically re-discovered, or artificially embellished – are more often than not spaces of overt and occasionally genuine social solidarity. Starting in the early 1990s, greater Asia and specifically India witnessed an unmitigated economic boom, one aligning neo-liberal politics with the subversion of meanings ascribed to space, place and ownership. In excavating this cusp of change, this paper repositions political discourse vis-à-vis architectural making and un-making. It interrogates the unbridled intrusion and metastasis of a rouge building typology that defiled the Indian imagination – the insidious and ubiquitous Mall. Germinating in the post-modern 1990s, the Mall proliferated as a building typology, systematically replacing the labyrinthine and lattice-like traditional bazaar across the volatile Indian landscape. While the Mall’s social ‘dividing practices’ also made collective spatial expressions of identity at the indigenous carnival ground and the ‘maidan’ utterly obsolete, these ‘temples of consumption’ also forged a ‘new elite’ positioned in ‘economic alterities’ that both challenged and subverted the notions of the national and collective with the unnational, the private and the experiential. This paper asserts that this unfortunate ‘institutionalisation’ of the Mall challenges the conventionally attributed spaces of nationalism – one street, one bazaar and one neighbourhood at a time.


Manu P. Sobti is Director International Engagement/Senior Lecturer at School of Architecture at the University of Queensland. His work on landscape mobilities and mappings of early-medieval urbanities and architecture along the Silk Road and the Indian Subcontinent is well-recognised, especially his filmic project on Central Asia’s Amu Darya River titled Medieval Riverlogues. He has authored Chandigarh Re-think (ORO Publishers, published 2017), Space and Collective Identity in South Asia: Migration, Architecture and Urban Development (Bloomsbury Press, forthcoming 2020) and Riverine Landscapes, Urbanity and Conflict: Narratives from East and West (Routledge-Taylor & Francis, forthcoming 2019).


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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