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Dr Ayona Datta

Dr Ayona Datta


Reader in Urban Futures


K7.37 King’s Building
Department of Geography
King’s College London
Strand Campus
London, WC2R 2LS







My broad research interests are in the critical geographies of smart urbanism, gender citizenships and urban futures in the global north and south. My earlier research examined the connections between transnational urbanism, migrant citizenship, and translocal geographies of belonging among East European construction workers in London. This research continues 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 in India. This is particularly related to the resultant transformations in gender relations and citizenship struggles that occupy social, political and environmental spaces of action.

My more recent 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' (2011) with Ashgate. My co-edited book ‘Mega-urbanization in the global South: Fast cities and new urban utopias of the postcolonial state’ is in print with Routledge and another co-edited book ‘Ecological Citizenships in the global south’ is forthcoming with Zed Books.

I am journal editor of Dialogues in Human Geography and Urban Geography and on the editorial boards of AntipodeGender, Place and Culture and Society and Space. I am also a publicly engaged scholar with a strong media presence, regular op-eds in the ConversationUKGuardian and openDemocracy, and I maintain a personal blog titled ‘The city inside out’I am regularly invited to international lectures and keynotes including a recent talk on smart cities at the UNCTAD annual meeting in Geneva.

I joined King’s in August 2016, having worked previously in University of Leeds, London School of Economics and Queen’s University Belfast. 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.

Research interests
  • Postcolonial urbanism and urban transformations
  • Critical geographies of smart urbanism and urban futures
  • Slums and informal settlements
  • Gender citizenship, urban violence and rule of law
  • Transnational urbanism, migrant citizenship, and translocal geographies of belonging

My research and teaching broadly focuses on postcolonial urbanism and the gendered politics of urban citizenship in the global south. In particular, I am interested in how cities seek to transform themselves through utopian urban visions of the future and their impacts on everyday social, material and gendered geographies. I use interdisciplinary approaches from sociology, anthropology, feminist and critical geography combining qualitative and visual research methods to pursue my research interests. I have conducted fieldwork in India, Turkey, USA and UK and my research has been supported by AHRC, ESRC, British Academy, UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI), World Universities Network (WUN), Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines (STICERD) and European Science Foundation.

Three distinct but related areas of my research are as follows.

Smart cities and postcolonial urbanism:

The first strand of research aims to advance theoretical and empirical work on the ways in which new utopian city visions (seen particularly in the rise of smart cities) have creating socially exclusionary landscapes in the global south. This interest began with the examination of luxury housing along the Izmir-Cesme expressway where I analysed urban elite discourses of gendered ‘natures’ and ‘sustainable’ lifestyles. I developed this theme through an ESRC-ICSSR funded visiting scholar award researching the ‘Politics of Sustainable Development along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway’. Based on this work, I was appointed by Foresight in the UK Government Office for Science to write an expert review in their ‘Global Environmental Migration’ project. More recently, I have been funded by British Council-UKIERI to produce pedagogic tools on smart cities in India and by WUN for a comparative analysis of ‘Smart Cities and Social Justice’ in India and South Africa. I am PI on an AHRC network grant titled ‘Learning from the Utopian City’ through which I have organised (with Co-Is) four city workshops in India (bringing together major stakeholders) and one international conference in Leeds in 2016. I have published on this theme in Environment and Planning C, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Dialogues in Human Geography and two co-edited books titled ‘Mega-urbanization in the global south’ (Routledge, in press) and ‘Ecological Citizenships in the Global South (Zed, under contract). I have also written extensively for popular media such as TheConversationUKopenDemocracy and the Guardian and been quoted in several news articles. Recently I was invited to present on ‘smart cities and social justice’ in the UNCTAD 19th annual session of the Commission for Science Technology and Development in Palais de Nations, Geneva.

Gender, law and urban citizenship:

The second strand of my research examines urban social sustainability and resilience through the notion of law and gendered urban citizenship in the global south. This was funded by a British Academy research grant, based on which I completed a research monograph titled The Illegal City: Space, Law and Gender in a Delhi squatter settlement’. The monograph examines squatters’ negotiations of law and illegality in everyday life through their struggles around water and sanitation, resident organization, and gender power relations within the home. More recently, I have written about the high profile gang rapes in India as part of the urban violence enacted through the gendered divides of public and private law. My research continues to develop the theoretical and empirical connections between the violence of law, intimate citizenship and public/private constructions of gender. I deliver regular invited lectures and plenaries on this topic, including the Urban Geography plenary in AAG 2014. More recently, I organised (with colleagues) the 2015 biennial Feminist and Women’s Studies Association (FWSA) conference titled ‘Everyday Encounters with Violence’ in Leeds. I have been interviewed several times on BBC Radio on this theme and have published around this in Antipode, CITY, Cultural GeographiesDerivé, Dialogues in Human Geography, Gender, Place, and Culture, Urban Geography; as well as 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. These interests began with a consultancy for two London and Paris based housing associations who were interested in building migrant worker housing. This then led to a STICERD funded research project titled ‘Home-building, Migration, and the City’ examining East-European male builders’ relationships with difference and otherness in London. This research has contributed to developing theoretical and empirical approaches towards situated cosmopolitanisms, affective encounters with the global city, and the material geographies of gendered home/lands; as well as using innovative methodologies of visual narratives and participant photography. In 2010, I chaired and organized a major international conference funded by the European Science Foundation titled ‘Home, Migration, and the City: New methodologies, new narratives’ in Sweden. 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.


2016: AHRC development grant (PI ref: AH/N007395/1) ‘Learning from the Utopian City: An international network on alternative histories of India's urban futures’. £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 funded 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 (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

2005: Queen’s University Belfast Promising Researcher Grant titled ‘New Communities, New Identities: Architecture of California Homes’ in Izmir, Turkey. Amount £5,000.




  • 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.
Impact, innovation and outreach

Invited lectures/seminars/workshops
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

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

Media appearances/mentions

28th Jan 2016   Quoted in the Guardian.

29th June 2014 Quoted in South China Morning Post.

22nd June 2014  Quoted in Economic Times.

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.

Conference/Workshop Organisation
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.

Conference Plenaries/Keynotes
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.

PhD topics

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.

For a full list of publications, please visit Dr Datta's research profile.


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