South Asia Institute
South Asia Institute

Talk by Andrew Nelson, University of North Texas

Fri, February 22, 2013 | Meyerson Conference Room (WCH 4.118)

3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

From Newar Urbanism to Nepali Suburbanism: A Social History of Kathmandu’s Sprawl

In this talk, I will investigate the transformation of Kathmandu Valley from the sacred center, ritual boundaries, and social integration of the Newar cities to the amorphous structure and fragmentation of the Valley’s current state of sprawl. While analysts tend to attribute this shift to the social, political, and economic reforms of 1951 and 1991, I look alternatively to the politics of land in 19th Century Kathmandu. I show how state land policy enabled elite merchants and nobles to develop a ‘rent-seeking mentality,’ which undermined agricultural production and tenants’ claims to land. While a disregard for agriculture made the development of a residential periphery possible, the spatial ideology of the Rana rulers (1844-1951) made it conceivable. The construction of the Rana’s large palace compounds outside of the urban boundary fractured the strict division of agricultural and residential space in Newar cities. Together, the emergence of a rentier class and peripheral palace compounds established the conditions under which the Valley’s cities grew outwards instead of upwards to accommodate the migration flows of the late 20th Century. 

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