Mumbai's textile industry is commonly but incorrectly understood to be an extinct relic of the past. In The Archive of Loss: Lively Ruination in Mill Land Mumbai
(Duke University Press, 2019), Maura Finkelstein
examines what it means for textile mill workers—who are assumed not to exist—to live and work during a period of deindustrialization. Challenging the view that archives are (just) locational, Finkelstein shows how mills are ethnographic archives of the city where documents, artifacts, and stories exist in the buildings and in the bodies of workers. Workers' pain, illnesses, injuries, and exhaustion narrate industrial decline; the ways in which they live in tenements exist outside and resist the values expounded by modernity; and the rumors and untruths they share about textile worker strikes and a mill fire help them make sense of the industry's survival. In outlining this archive's contents, Finkelstein conceptualizes these mills as lively ruins and shows how infrastructures are experienced by those who are rendered “unvisible” in the imagination of the city. An evocative ethnography, Finkelstein’s book, presents us with a lens through which to challenge, reimagine, and alter ways of thinking about the past, present, and future in Mumbai and beyond.
Sneha Annavarapu is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago.