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Keywords:

  • informal housing;
  • public space;
  • displacement;
  • gentrification;
  • India

Abstract:  This paper examines the narratives through which associations of private property owners in Delhi depict slums as zones of incivility and “nuisance.” In tracing how this “nuisance talk” travels into and gains legitimacy in popular and state visions of urban space, the paper shows the role of discourse in justifying and enacting exclusionary urban imaginaries. As a lay term, nuisance is widely used to identify forms of aesthetic impropriety. But, as a primary element of environmental law, nuisance operates discursively as a catchall category allowing diverse private grievances to be expressed in terms of environmental welfare and the public interest. The widening depiction of slums as nuisances hence reworks the public/private divide, inserting once local codes of civility into the core of public life. By examining how nuisance talk circulates between property owners' associations, the media, and the government, the paper shows how slum demolitions have become widely read as a form of environmental improvement.