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 the current Graduate Program Director in Geography and served as the Director of the South Asian Studies Program at Rutgers from 2013-2020.
I am the author or editor of three books and have published widely on subaltern urbanism, environmental politics, aesthetic governmentality, property, and the uses and limits of gentrification theory.
Rule by Aesthetics: World-Class CIty Making in Delhi (Oxford University Press, 2015) is based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork on mass slum demolitions in Delhi, India. It uses aspirational efforts to transform Delhi into a world-class city to show how aesthetic norms can replace the procedures of mapping and surveying typically considered necessary to govern space. The practice of evaluating territory based on its adherence to aesthetic norms – what I call "rule by aesthetics" – allowed the state to intervene in the once ungovernable space of slums, declaring slums illegal because they looked illegal, shopping malls “planned” because they looked planned.
Futureproof: Security Aesthetics and the Management of Life (Duke University Press, 2020), co-edited with Hudson McFann and Daniel Goldstein, examines security as a sensory domain shaped by affect and image as much as rationalities and rules. It insists that security must be studied through the menace of walls as much as the engineering principles that go into their making, redirecting focus from hard infrastructures and visible technologies toward what we term security aesthetics.
Land Fictions: The Commodification of Land in City and Country (Cornell University Press, forthcoming), co-edited with Bob Lake, considers the role of narrative and fiction in transforming land as a socially and ecologically embedded relation into a commodity to be bought and sold. Breaking down barriers between urban studies and agrarian studies, it shows how instruments and discourses of real estate market making move between country and city, highlighting land grabbing as a global process shaped by both urban and agrarian revolutions.
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. The book asks how new patterns in urban planning call for an atmospheric reconsideration of the city. 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, the city as air conditioner, and new claims to atmospheric citizenship.
I also recently started new research in Central New York on migrant labor camps, carrying out oral history interviews with farmworkers living in the backs of orchards or beside barns on farms. Combined with case law review, the project uses the frameworks of informal housing and improvised infrastructures – drawn from my experience with worker housing in India – to explore immigrant and housing rights in rural America.
I run a Postcolonial Cities lab that meets regularly to explore the spatialization of inequality, as well as innovative spatial and political articulations of the right to the city. I regularly teach graduate seminars in urban theory and have taught the large School of Arts and Sciences Signature course called "Cities" for the past five years, an introduction to global urbanism through a multi-media study of cities from the streets up.
Ph.D. University of California, Berkeley. 2010.
M.A. University of California, Berkeley. 2004.
B.A. Colby College, 2001.
- Ghertner, D. A. and R. Lake (eds.) (2021) Land Fictions: The Commodification of Land in City and Country. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
- Ghertner, D. A. (2021) Postcolonial Atmospheres: Air's Coloniality and the Climate of Enclosure. Annals of the American Association of Geographers 111(5): 1483–1502.
- Ghertner, D. A. (2020) Lively Lands: The Spatial Reproduction Squeeze and the Failure of the Urban Imaginary. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 44(4): 561–581.
- Ghertner, D. A. and S. Govil. (2020) Infrastructures of Care in India's Citizenship Battle. Society and Space Online.
- Ghertner, D. A., McFann, H., & D. Goldstein (eds.) (2020) Futureproof: Security Aesthetics and the Management of Life. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Read our Introduction here.
- Ghertner, D. A. (2020) Airpocalypse: Distributions of Life Amidst Delhi's Polluted Airs. Public Culture 32(1): 133–162.
- Ghertner, D. A. (2019) India, Race, Breath. positions: asia critique.
- Ghertner, D. A. (2019) The Colonial Roots of India's Air Pollution Crisis. Economic and Political Weekly LIV(47): 68–74.
- Ghertner, D. A. (2017) When Is the State? Topology, Temporality, and the Navigation of Everyday State Space in Delhi. Annals of the American Association of Geographers, 107(3): 731-750.
- Ghertner, D. A. (2015) Rule by Aesthetics: World-Class City Making in Delhi. New York: Oxford University Press.
- Ghertner, D. A. (2015) Why Gentrification Theory Fails in ‘Much of the World.’ City 19 (4): 546–556
- Ghertner, D.A. (2014) India's Urban Revolution: Geographies of Displacement beyond Gentrification. Environment and Planning A 46(7):1554-1571.
- Ghertner, D.A. (2012) Nuisance Talk and the Propriety of Property: Middle-Class discourses of a Slum-Free Delhi. Antipode 44(4): 1161-1187
- Ghertner, D. A. (2011) Gentrifying the State, Gentrifying Participation: Elite Governance Programs in Delhi. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 35(3): 504-532.
- Ghertner, D. A. (2010) Calculating without Numbers: Aesthetic Governmentality in Delhi's Slums. Economy and Society 39 (2): 185-217.
Current Post-Doctoral Advisees: Dr. Devra Waldman