Laurent Gayer is a research fellow at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), currently posted at the Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Internationales (CERI) - Sciences Po, Paris.
He specializes in the Indian sub-continent, and more particularly in the study of urban dynamics and violent mobilizations in India and Pakistan. He has coedited (with Christophe Jaffrelot) Armed Militias of South Asia. Fundamentalists, Maoists, and Separatists and Muslims in Indian Cities. Trajectories of Marginalisation, both of which were published by Hurst/Columbia University Press.
His most recent book, Karachi. Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City (Hurst/HarperCollins/Oxford University Press, 2014) is the result of extensive fieldwork in Karachi between 2001 and 2013.
This book defends the idea that, in contrast to the ‘chaotic’ and ‘anarchic’ city portrayed in journalistic accounts, there is indeed order of a kind in the city’s permanent civil war. Far from being entropic, Karachi’s polity is predicated upon relatively stable patterns of domination, rituals of interaction and forms of arbitration, which have made violence manageable for its population - even if this does not exclude a pervasive state of fear, which results from the continuous transformation of violence in the course of its updating.
- Cities at War: The Violent Fabric of Urban Landscapes
by Laurent Gayer
Thursday 5th March - Alliance française - Conference Hall - 6:30 pm
If cities have long been a refuge from war, famine or epidemics, urban history is also a history of violence. From the European cities of the seventeenth century, where siege warfare was elevated to a mark of civilization, to the contemporary slums, ghettos and banlieues crystallizing the fears of American and European military strategists, urban centers have been a privileged site of war. Not only did cities become major battlefields throughout world history; both as targets and places to defend, they also contributed in a major way to military theory and the art of war. In turn, war-making transformed cityscapes, through spatial and architectural arrangements epitomized in the fortified city.
As military threats against the city are becoming more diffuse, this architecture of safety tends to shift from an outward to an inward model, giving birth to a new military urbanism which aims to defend the city from within, by securitizing infrastructure in particular. This trend is particularly manifest in Western cities under threat from terrorist attacks.
In the urban agglomerations of the Global South, the intersections between war and cityness are more complex. For some irregular armed groups, city-life itself is an evil to be destroyed. Recent history offers tragic examples of this war against the city, the most emblematic of which remains the capture of Kabul by the Taliban in the mid-1990s. More frequently, however, warring factions are fighting for the city and its resources, a struggle which generally remains less lethal but which exerts a deep impact over the social fabric and the local political economy nonetheless, as Karachi’s ‘ordered disorder’ exemplifies.