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Author ORCID Identifier


Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Joya Misra

Subject Categories

Politics and Social Change | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology | Urban Studies and Planning


The intensification of neoliberal economic reforms and new patterns of middle-class consumption in India have coincided with rising levels of urban inequality and poverty. Yet India’s capital, Delhi, positions itself as a “world-class city,” invoking neoliberal state aspirations to justify widespread violence against communities living and working in state-contested spaces. While much has been written about the reproduction of urban inequality and poverty in India, this body of scholarship under-emphasizes mechanisms of social control and violence, specifically, criminalization by the state.
To understand these dynamics, children’s experiences are particularly important given their age-based potential and vulnerabilities. To give visibility to children’s accounts, I analyze working children’s narratives about the regulatory aspects of everyday social life in their residential communities, on the streets, and in schools. In doing so, I draw from over two years of multi-sited ethnographic research in one of Delhi’s “informal” communities and in the city’s most underserved homeless shelter and its surrounds. Centering children and families living and working in state-contested urban spaces, I ask: How, and to what end, does state-produced violence operate in people’s everyday lives? To address this question, I analyze participant observation data, extensive informal interviews, and over 70 formal and semi-structured interviews with girls and boys, adult guardians, legal activists, and civil society and state representatives.
Conceptualizing the “state” not as an abstraction, but as a diverse set of practices, institutions, and people, in a series of empirical chapters, I examine people’s everyday interactions with “street-level bureaucrats,” and nodal agencies of the Delhi state. In Chapter 2, examining the role of the police and Delhi state agencies through a comparative analysis of my empirical cases, I argue that regulatory power operates through spatial territorialism and stigmatized surveillance in “invited,” or state legitimized and dominated, residential spaces. Conversely, in “invented” residential spaces, which exist in opposition to the state, regulatory power operates through spatial cooperation and discretionary surveillance.
In Chapter 3, following girls in Manohar Nivas jhuggi as they attempt to secure access to water, I examine their (and their family’s) everyday interactions with the state’s nodal agency for water distribution. I argue that “waiting” for water is a form of state-induced structural violence that gives rise to micro-forms of gendered violence at the community level. As they wait for the state, young girls navigate local “fights” for water to meet the care needs of their families. In Chapter 4, following boys living in Aakash Sadan shelter and working on the streets, I argue that street-level bureaucrats (i.e., teachers and the police) use strategies of performative policing to criminalize boys in public schools and on the streets. These everyday forms of criminalization, I argue, are both social and legal and serve as a mechanism through which inequality is reproduced, and poverty and stigmatization are entrenched as dual processes.
By unmasking the hidden ways in which children are intimately socialized to the presence of the state and its violence in their daily lives, while also acting to resist this domination, I offer a unique lens through which to theorize neoliberal politics from the perspective of the political economy of childhood.


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.