Colonial and post-colonial Kolkata

JCA editor-in-chief Kevin Hewison has reviewed a new book published by Amsterdam University Press, Colonizing, Decolonizing, and Globalizing Kolkata. From a Colonial to a Post-Marxist City (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2017.1402505).

Authored by Siddhartha Sen, the book is lavishly illustrated, unfortunately only in black and white. Sen’s work is an essentially chronological account of architecture and urban planning and design in Kolkata. It takes the reader from the period when the Nawab of Bengal granted the East India Company a trading licence in 1690, through its colonial experience to its current incarnation as another “globalized city.”

Sen contextualises architecture, planning and urban design in a broader political economy,
delineating the ways in which colonialism, wealth and power are reflected in and
imposed by physical forms that themselves reflect social and political control. The theoretical lens is something post-structural.

Hewison concludes that “Sen’s book is a useful contribution to the literature on Kolkata’s history, adding a perspective from architecture and planning.” He adds that a:

puzzling aspect is Sen’s avowed radicalism but an analysis that isn’t particularly radical. The author notes this “paradox” and seeks to explain it by referring to the disjuncture between Marxism as theory and Marxist-inspired government…. There’s something to this, although there’s not much that is radical in post-structural and post-colonial approaches.

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