Dr Ayona Datta
Reader in Urban Futures
K7.37 King’s Building
Department of Geography
Office: Bush House North East Wing, Room 6.08
My broad research interests are in the critical geographies of smart urbanism, gender citizenships and urban futures in the global south. My research has sought to develop theoretical and empirical work on slums and informal settlements in exploring how marginal social actors live through the violence of law and urban development. This is particularly related to the resultant transformations in gender relations and citizenship struggles that occupy social, political and environmental spaces of action in the global South. My current research seeks to advance theoretical and empirical work on postcolonial urbanism through the examination of smart cities as experiments in urban innovation and digital citizenships.
I am author of 'The Illegal City: Space, law and gender in a Delhi squatter settlement' (2012) and co-editor of 'Translocal geographies: Spaces, places, connections' (Ashgate, 2011) and ‘Mega-urbanization in the global South: Fast cities and new urban utopias of the postcolonial state’ (Routledge, 2017). I have another forthcoming co-edited book titled 'Postcolonial Utopias: Histories of the urban future' forthcoming with Manchester University Press.
I am journal editor of Dialogues in Human Geography and Urban Geography and on the editorial boards of Antipode; Gender, Place and Culture; and Society and Space. I am also a publicly engaged scholar with a strong media presence and I maintain a personal blog titled ‘The city inside out’. I am regularly invited to international lectures and keynotes including several meetings of the UN at their headquarters in Geneva and New York. I have a first degree in Architecture (Delhi), an MPhil in Environmental Design (Cantab.) and a PhD in Environmental Design and Planning (Arizona State University).
Prior to entering academia, I practised as a chartered architect in Delhi and London.
Since 2013, I have given an average of 8-10 invited lectures and 2-3 keynotes/plenaries each year to national, international academic audiences. This includes the Urban Geography plenary in the 2014 Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting; Keynotes in University of Oslo, University of Finland, University of Tampere, University of Antwerp, University of Freiburg and University of Pennsylvania.
As part of broader engagement, I have been invited Speaker in several themed UN meetings in Geneva and New York. I have also delivered invited talks at the MakeCity Festival, Berlin, Spielart Theatre festival, Munich, Building Futures conference organised by Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
Funded research projects
Three distinct but related areas of my research are as follows:
Postcolonial urban futures
The first strand of research aims to advance theoretical and empirical work on the ways in which a 'digital turn' in postcolonial urbanism (seen in the rise of smart cities) hare producing new ways of imagining, governing and performing the future. This research has been funded by the AHRC, ESRC, UKEIRI and several other seed funds. I have published on this theme in Environment and Planning C, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Dialogues in Human Geography and a co-edited book titled ‘Mega-urbanization in the global south’ (Routledge, 2017). I have written extensively on this topic in TheConversationUK, openDemocracy and the Guardian and been quoted in several news articles. I have also presented in the UNCTAD and UN ECOSOC sessions in Geneva and New York on smart cities.
Gender identity and urban citizenship
The second strand of my research examines urban citzenship through the gendered body and citizenship in the global south. This research has been funded twice by British Academy and faculty seed funds. I have published a research monograph on this theme titled ‘The Illegal City: Space, Law and Gender in a Delhi squatter settlement’. I deliver regular invited lectures and plenaries on this topic, including the Urban Geography plenary in AAG 2014. I have been interviewed several times on BBC Radio on this theme and have published on this in Antipode, CITY, Cultural Geographies, Derivé, Dialogues in Human Geography, Gender, Place, and Culture, Urban Geography; and produced two films ‘City bypassed’ and ‘City forgotten’.
Translocal geographies of belonging
This strand of my research is concerned with connections between migrant transnationalisms, translocal identities, and material geographies of home and belonging. This research has been funded by STICERD and European Science Foundation. My co-edited book titled ‘Translocal Geographies: Spaces, Places, Connections’ published in 2011 builds upon this work to propose an embodied notion of belonging to spaces and places during increased global mobility. Findings from this research have been disseminated as book chapters and in leading geography journals including Antipode, Environment and Planning A, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Urban Studies and through invited lectures in several international universities.
2018-2020 ESRC Urban Transformations (PI ref: ES/R006857/1) Title: Learning from small cities: Governing imagined futures and the dynamics of change in India's smart urban age. Amount: £464,339 fEC.
(Jun-Aug) 2018 British Academy Visiting Fellowship award (ref. VF1\102424) to Prof. Sanjay Srivastava to work collaboratively with Dr Datta on project titled, ‘Urban Futures: Satellite Mapping, Big Data and the Politics of Space at the Margins of the Indian City’. Amount, £32,595.
2018-2020 AHRC network grant (PI ref: AH/R003866/1) titled ‘Gendering the smart city: A subaltern curation network on Gender Based Violence (GBV) in India’ fEC 59,720.
2018-2020 Swiss National Science Foundation Money follows co-operation line (CoI ref: 10001AM_173332/1). Title: Smart cities: ‘Provincialising’ the global urban age in India and South Africa. fEC 624,000CHF ~ £553,000 fEC.
2017-2019 British Academy GCRF ‘Cities and Infrastructure’ Programme. (PI ref: CI170047). Title: ‘Disconnected infrastructures and Violence Against Women (VAW): Innovating digital technologies in low-income neighbourhoods to produce safer Indian cities’ fEC £280,798.
2017 Faculty Research Grant, King’s College London. Title: Gendered big data: Role of smart safety apps in addressing gender-based violence in Delhi’s informal settlements. Total £9653
2016-2017 AHRC development grant (PI ref: AH/N007395/1) titled ‘Learning from the Utopian City: An international network on alternative histories of India's urban futures’. AHRC contribution £39,682 (fEC).
2015 WUN (World Universities Network) grant in collaboration with University of Leeds (PI) International Research Collaboration Awards. Title: Smart cities and social justice. £15,000.
2013 White Rose Collaboration Fund (with colleagues from Universities of Sheffield & York) for a series of workshops on ‘Migration and Economic Crisis: Responses of Brits at home and abroad’. Total amount £10,724.
2013 WUN (World Universities Network) grant in collaboration with Penn State University (PI) and 8 other partner institutions. Project title: Negotiating Multilingual Identities in Migrant Professional Networks. Total amount: £34,995.
2012 Student Experience Funds from the School of Geography, University of Leeds. £5000
2012 British Council-UKIERI project titled ‘Smart cities: Knowledge exchange and the production of visual teaching aids on sustainable development in India’. Amount £2910.
2010 ESRC-ICSSR India-UK Scholar Exchange Award (PI RES-072-27-0044). Title: Politics of Sustainable Development: Mobility and Development along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Amount: £8000.
2010 European Science Foundation conference grant. Title: ‘Home, Migration and the City: New Narratives, New Methodologies’, 6th – 10th August 2010, Linköping, Sweden. Amount €40,000
2006-2007 Suntory Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, London School of Economics New Researcher Grant titled ‘Home, Migration, and the City: East European Construction Workers in London’. Amount £20,000
2004-2005 British Academy Small Research Grant (SG-39255) titled ‘Mapping the Architecture of Resistance and Control: Women’s Organisation in a Squatter Settlement’ in New Delhi, India. Amount £7,457
Impact, innovation and outreach
4SSG1008 First year tutorials (Semesters 1 and 2): Weekly tutorials on a range of topics in human geography.
- 5SSG2065 Cities and Citizenships (Semester 2): I convene this second year module on Cities and citizenships. This is particularly concerned with the examination of how citizenship plays out in cities through the formal organization of rights and responsibilities in different spaces and scales as well as lived experiences of citizenship.
- 6SSG3061 Current Research in Geography (Semester 1): As part of this third year course, I take two seminars on ‘Smart Cities and urban futures.’
MA/MSc Sustainable Cities: I am Programme Director for this course.
- 7SSG5179: Understanding the Sustainable City (Semester 1): I teach 20% of this module which focuses on an exploration of approaches to analyzing contemporary urban sustainability. This is also a core module for the MA/MSc in Sustainable Cities.
- 7SSG5180: Governing the Sustainable City (Semester 2): I convene this term 2 module tackling the key issue of governance and sustainability in the city. This is also a core module for the MA/MSc in Sustainable Cities.
Since 2013, I have given an average of eight invited lectures/ keynotes/ plenaries each year to national, international academic audiences. This includes plenaries in University of York, Open University, and 2013 Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, American University of Beirut; keynotes in University of Antwerp, University of Freiburg and University of Pennsylvania and invited lectures in University of Oxford, University of Edinburgh, University of Strathclyde, London School of Economics, Humboldt University, Paris 1 Sorbonne, University of Fribourg, Eichstatt-Ingolstadt University, National University of Ireland, National University of Singapore, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, Delhi School of Economics, Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) among others.
In terms of broader engagement, I was recently invited Speaker in the UNCTAD Commission for Science, Technology and Development 19th Annual Meeting in Palais de Nations, Geneva. I have also been invited to talk at the MakeCity Festival, Berlin, Spielart Theatre festival, Munich, Building Futures conference organised by Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
Op-eds and Films
Datta, A (9 June 2016) Three big challenges for smart cities and how to solve them, Conversation UK
Datta, A (27 January 2016) India’s experiments with smart urban futures, Conversation UK
Datta, A (22nd May 2015) ‘Smartness Inc.’ openDemocracy digital common
Datta, A (17th April 2014) ‘India’s smart city craze: Big, green and doomed from the start?’ Guardian.
Datta, A. (7th Jan 2014) ‘Why Student Fieldtrips make an Impact’, Guardian Higher Education blog.
Datta, A (18th Sept 2013) City forgotten: India’s mega-urbanization and the fate of its towns. [Film 15 mins], openDemocracy digital commons
Datta, A (6th August 2013) City bypassed: The casualties of Mumbai’s urban renewal. [Film 13 mins], openDemocracy digital commons
Datta, A (21st May 2013) The Myth of resettlement in Delhi, openDemocracy digital commons.
2013 ‘City Stories’ documentaries screened as part of ‘People Build Better Cities’ international travelling exhibition across nine cities http://peoplebuildingbettercities.org/events/chennai/
2013 ‘City bypassed’ and ‘City forgotten’ – two films that depict different faces of development urbanization and communal politics in Maharashtra.
2009 Curated participatory photography exhibition based on East European migrant workers in London in Cities Methodologies workshop in UCL
2009 Photo essay in Spielart Theatre festival, on ‘Woodstock of Political Thinking’ organised by Ludwig-Maximilians Universität, Munich
28th Jan 2016 Quoted in the Guardian. http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2016/jan/28/where-world-newest-cities-look-same
29th June 2014 Quoted in South China Morning Post. http://www.scmp.com/magazines/post-magazine/article/1540813/megacities-asia-part-iii-grey-areas
22nd June 2014 Quoted in Economic Times. http://m.economictimes.com/articleshow/36967372.cms
26th Jan 2014 Interviewed by BBC Radio Leeds on the gangrape of a tribal woman in West Bengal, India.
10th Dec 2013 BA Human Geography Student fieldtrip to Mumbai covered by Sahara, India’s leading Urdu daily.
1st Dec 2013 Interview on BBC Radio Leeds on the impact of the gang rape on British South Asian Feminisms
13th Sept 2013 Interview on BBC Radio Leeds drive time for expert opinion on judicial sentencing of hanging to Delhi rapists.
8th Sept 2013 Paper reviewer for BBC Radio Leeds
26th Aug 2013 ‘City Stories’ covered by the leading Indian newspaper Times of India
4th July 2013 Personal blog ‘The city inside out’ quoted in Times Higher Education
28th June 2013 Research on East European migrant workers appeared in Yorkshire Evening Post.
27th June 2013 Interviewed on BBC Radio Leeds Breakfast Show for expert opinion on the documentary ‘Is India a dangerous place for women?’
23rd June 2013 Interviewed on BBC Radio Leeds Connections for expert opinion on the documentary ‘Is India a dangerous place for women?’
16th June 2013 Interviewed on BBC Radio Leeds Connections for expert opinion on events in Delhi six months after the gang rape case.
February 2013 Interviewed on BBC Radio Leeds Connections for expert opinion on recent increase in age limits for IVF treatment on NHS and its impacts on British Asian families.
6th Jan 2013 Interviewed on BBC Radio Leeds Connections for expert opinion on Delhi gang rape case.
June 2016 Organiser of workshop entitled ‘Smart urban futures and social justice’ in Leeds 29-30 June.
June 2016 Organiser of Conference entitled ‘Utopian Urban Future: Histories, imaginations, possibilities’ in University of Leeds 27-28 June.
May 2016 Organiser of city workshops in Navi Mumbai and Nashik bringing together a range of stakeholders from grassroots, government and academia to debate on smart cities. 27-30 May.
Sept 2015 Organising Committee of conference titled ‘Everyday Encounters with Violence: Critical feminist perspectives’ in University of Leeds.
May 2014 Organising Committee of conference titled ‘Feminist Geography: Who we are, what we do, why we do it’. Omaha, NA
August 2010 Chair of research conference funded by European Science Foundation. Title ‘Home, Migration and the City: New Narratives, New Methodologies’ in Linköping, Sweden.
June 2016 Plenary speaker on ‘Sociologies of Urban Life’ in University of York.
October 2015 Keynote speaker on the ‘Debating development’ series in University of Antwerp. Title: “Building Smart Cities…From Scratch?”
March 2015 Doreen Massey plenary panel in Open University
Jan 2015 Keynote lecture in the University of Freiburg, Institute of Advanced Studies interdisciplinary conference on ‘Translocal Practices, Urban Transformations: Migration and Mobile Urbanism in South and Southeast Asia’, from 14-16 Jan 2015.
April 2014 Plenary Lecture at the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting. Organised by Urban Geography Speciality Group and Urban Geography journal.
Nov 2013 Keynote speech in University of Pennsylvania ‘Migration and language’ conference.
April 2008 Plenary discussant at the ‘Muslim Geographies’ Conference in University of Liverpool, 4-5 April 2008.
I am interested in supervising PhD students in the following areas:
- Postcolonial urbanism and utopian urban visions of the future
- Gender, law, and violence in urban life
- Politics of gender, space and power
- Urban citizenship and belonging
- Transnational/translocal spaces of home and identity
- Innovative visual and participatory methodologies in researching urban futures.