Geography Knows No Boundaries

Portrait (head shot photo)
D. Asher Ghertner
Associate Professor
(Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley)
Office: Lucy Stone Hall Room B-238
Phone: (848) 445-4128
Research Interests: urban geography, development and displacement, political ecology, aesthetic politics, ethnography, postcolonialism, India
Core Faculty, Graduate Faculty

Curriculum Vitae

I am an interdisciplinary geographer interested in the technologies and tactics through which mass displacement is conceived, justified and enacted. My research uses the contemporary politics of urban renewal in India to challenge conventional theories of economic transition, city planning, and political rule. I taught for two years at the London School of Economics before joining Rutgers in 2012. I am also the Director of the South Asian Studies Program at Rutgers.

bookcover - Rule by Aesthetics

My book (Oxford University Press, 2015) uses Delhi’s millennial effort to become a world-class city to show how aesthetic norms can replace the procedures of mapping and surveying typically considered necessary to administer space. The practice of evaluating territory based on its adherence to aesthetic norms – what I call "rule by aesthetics" – allowed the state in Delhi to intervene in the once ungovernable space of slums, overcoming its historical reliance on inaccurate maps and statistics. Slums were declared illegal because they looked illegal, an arrangement that led to the displacement of a million slum residents in the first decade of the 21st century. Drawing on close ethnographic engagement with the slum residents targeted for removal, as well as the planners, judges, and politicians who targeted them, the book demonstrates how easily plans, laws, and democratic procedures can be subverted once the subjects of democracy are seen as out of place. Slum dwellers' creative appropriation of dominant aesthetic norms shows, however, that aesthetic rule does not mark the end of democratic claims making. Rather, it signals a new relationship between the mechanism of government and the practice of politics, one in which struggles for a more inclusive city rely more than ever on urban aesthetics.

A new book project, tentatively titled “Bad Air: Life Exposed in the Climate of Crisis,” uses the challenges of extreme air pollution exposure in Delhi, "the world's most air-polluted city" (WHO 2014), to expose the ethics of the Anthropocene to the challenge of postcolonial justice. Through different analytical "suspensions" – including calibration, precipitation, respiration, and sublimation – I ask what new social compositions become possible when life is imagined and fought over atmospherically. Individual chapters focus, inter alia, on the history of racialized pulmonary medicine, the extension of residential models of segregation into new "premium atmospheres" in gated communities and schools, the city as air conditioner, the caste/class habitus of atmospheric attunement, and an ascendent atmospheric citizenship articulated via the right to breathe.

A second project, “The Anatomy of a Suburb: Law and Environment on the Indian Periphery,” examines what “planning” means when the state’s planning apparatus is mobilized toward subverting its very codes. Combining ethnography with methods from social history, I am studying the improvised infrastructures and building codes in unauthorized colonies—peri-urban, auto-constructed settlements that house a third of India’s urban population—so as to provide a postcolonial account of planning that treats planning as the things planners do, irrespective of their conformance with “the plan.”

A third project, based on fieldwork among low-level municipal workers in Delhi, explores the novel ways in which governmental decisions take place, and technologies of power are deployed, outside of commonly understood bureaucratic, hierarchical chains. How does our conception of state power change when a local engineer, middleman, or court clerk has as much influence over state decisions as a senior planner or elected leader? What new metaphors might we use to describe contexts in which the locus of governmental power is mobile rather than fixed, and where nodes of power can be substituted for each other?


Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley. 2010.
M.A. University of California, Berkeley. 2004.
B.A. Colby College, Waterville, Me. 2001.

Recent Courses:

01:450:250: Cities
01:450:363: Geography of Development
01:450:516: Urban Natures
01:450:516: Urban Geography: Dis/Possession
01:450:516: Urban Geography: Frontiers of Urban Theory
01:450:601: Geographic Perspectives
450:605:03: Critical Ethnographies of Power and Hegemony

Selected Publications:


Students: Hudson McFann, Priti Narayan, Sangeeta Banerji, Wei-Chieh Hung, Thomas Crowley, Stuti Govil

Upcoming Events

Mar 6 | 9:30AM | Faculty Meetings
Fac/Staff Meeting
Mar 6 | 10:30AM | Faculty Meetings
Grad Fac Meeting
Mar 8 | 3:00PM | Symposia
Planning without Deviants: The Conservative Turn in Public Housing Tenant Organizing in the 1980s
Apr 10 | 9:30AM | Faculty Meetings
Fac/Staff Meeting

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Geography Major and Minor

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International and Global Studies Minor

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Environmental Studies Major and Minor

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Graduate Program

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