Book review: Adam Michael Auerbach, Demanding Development: The Politics of Public Goods Provision in India’s Urban Slums

AuthorManjesh Rana
Published date01 June 2022
Date01 June 2022
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews
Adam Michael Auerbach, Demanding Development: The Politics of Public Goods Provision in India’s Urban
Slums (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020), 304 pp., `663.
Drawing on his ethnographic fieldwork in 8 slum settlements in Jaipur, Rajasthan, and Bhopal, Madhya
Pradesh, and survey data across 111 slums in the same 2 cities, Auerbach narrates the variable success of
slum residents in India in securing local public goods and services. The book is set around its primary
protagonists—the slum leaders—emerging in the informal space between the low-income slum
settlements and the political parties engaged in ‘vote bank politics’. Broadly, it takes a microscopic view
of how slum residents organize and demand public services from the state, and lists the conditions under
which such efforts are successful.
Studies of India’s slums overwhelmingly concentrate on a bunch of megacities—like Delhi, Mumbai,
Kolkata and Bangalore. It is thus refreshing to get insights into slum settlements based in smaller cities
of Jaipur and Bhopal. However, one would not be wrong to have expected a few more second-tier and
smaller urban cities spread across the country in the sample frame. Nonetheless, it makes a strong case
by avoiding the temptation to horizontally cover a large number of cities, and instead, taking a vertical
dive, bringing the limelight to the sustained, bottom-up efforts of residents to negotiate for public goods
and services. It should also be lauded for studying the day-to-day developments during the period
between the two elections, departing from the conventional framework of looking only at the impact of
the top-down material inducements just before the elections.
All slum settlements are not similarly placed and make wide divergences in their access to local
public goods and services. Why are some settlements able to command state responsiveness while others
fail? Looking at the politics of everyday claim-making, the book reveals some important factors that
cause disparities in development across settlements. Stressing at the role of slum leaders, especially the
ones embedded within party organizations, it argues that the slums which boast of dense networks of
political parties are better positioned to demand development from the state for one simple reason—the
competition among party workers to outperform each other in gaining followership triggers a sense of
accountability that encourages development. On the other hand, the settlements with scant networks of
party workers struggle to attract state responsiveness, making the public service provision in slums
largely mediated and politicized. After highlighting the uneven public goods provision across slum
settlements, and providing an overview of the book’s theoretical framework and research design in the
introductory chapter, the remaining seven chapters of the book are crafted around this central argument.
Put briefly, the second chapter maps out the mediated and politicized environment in slum settlements,
while in the third, Auerbach highlights the factors that put a settlement with dense networks of political
workers ahead of the one that has a thin network. He argues clearly that two variables—settlement
population and ethnic diversity—shape bottom-up incentives for the dwellers to participate in local
politics and top-down motivation for political parties to expand their party networks to them. It is this
barter between the two that defines the equilibrium point and sets the tone for the development of a slum
settlement. In the next chapter, he brings in the findings of the research and explains step-by-step how an
Studies in Indian Politics
10(1) 145–153, 2022
© 2022 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/23210230221082827

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