Few who have visited India in the past two decades will have failed to noticed the sudden and spectacular urban transformation that has taken place in many of its cities. Gated residential complexes with tennis courts and indoor gyms, glitzy office buildings, gleaming five-star hotels, and of course air-conditioned malls have become ubiquitous as the new face of a “new” India, often understood as symbols of a long-awaited global modernity. Getting behind the glittery facade, Llerena Searle’s
new book Landscapes of Accumulation: Real Estate and the Neoliberal Imagination in Contemporary India
(University of Chicago Press, 2015) shows that these buildings are not built to service consumer India; they are built for real estate developers and international investors for whom Indian real estate has become a profitable speculative gamble. Indian land and buildings are no longer local resources for production or use; they are turning, or more accurately being turned, into internationally tradeable financial assets. How this happens, by whose effort, and against what frictions is the story that the book tells. Searle shows that it is through
the narrative of a rising Indian middle class that investments are solicited and a real estate boom created. Through ethnographic attention to the practices and labors of real estate producers, Searle offers an innovative, sophisticated and refreshingly human story of the making of neoliberal India, a story has ultimately shows that the new landscapes that are cropping up all over India are landscapes first and foremost of accumulation. This book will be of interest to readers in urban studies, economics, anthropology, and of course South Asian Studies.
Aparna Gopalan is a Ph.D. student in Social Anthropology at Harvard University.