Book review: Ceasefire City: Militarism, Capitalism, and Urbanism in Dimapur

Reviewed by Matthew Wilkinson

20 Apr 2021, 2:49 p.m.
Matthew Wilkinson

Ceasefire City book cover

Book review: Ceasefire City: Militarism, Capitalism, and Urbanism in Dimapur

by Dolly Kikon & Duncan McDuie-Ra and reviewed by Matthew Wilkinson

New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2021; 284 pp.: 9780-1-9012-973-6£42.99 (hbk)


Urban studies is increasingly engaging with smaller, less global and relatively more peripheral urban areas. These are cities and sites that do not adhere to the traditional Global and World Cities (GAWC) studies focus on large and ultra-modern cities that are ranked hierarchically according to presence and control over global capital flows (Derudder and Parnreiter, 2014). Essentially, there is a growing recognition that ‘global cities’ offer only a narrow perspective on urbanisation and urbanity (McCann, 2004). This recognition has prompted a shift in focus for many scholars of the urban towards emerging urban sites, frontiers and conflict zones. New scholarship engages closely with cities and towns in the midst of and emerging from prolonged conflicts. Some of the more notable of these include Goma in North Kivu province in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Vlassenroot and Buscher, 2013), Kigali in Rwanda (Goodfellow and Smith, 2013) and Port Elizabeth in South Africa (Buur, 2006). Other scholarship focuses on frontiers, borderlands and other ‘peripheral’ areas where rapid urban growth and migration linked to global demands for resources and state-sponsored primitive accumulation has encouraged the emergence of ‘boomtowns’. Woodworth’s seminal work on Inner Mongolia exemplifies this ‘boomtown’ focus (Woodworth, 20122015). These are important contributions that inform understandings of the ways urban sites in frontiers develop (Hirsch, 2009), the ways communities engage with urban livelihoods in places that are often very distinct from large cities and globally connected hubs (Qian and Tang, 2019), and the ways that processes of urbanisation are controlled, contested and co-opted by a variety of actors (Beall et al., 2013). However, while economies and changing frontier politics have often been the focal points of discussions of frontier urbanism, ethnographies that uncover how people make livelihoods in emerging urban sites, how people relate to growing cities in the frontier and what living in these places is actually like, is lacking.

In Ceasefire City: Militarism, Capitalism and Urbanism in Dimapur, Kikon and McDuie-Ra offer a valuable contribution to these discussions, bringing an original perspective to an emerging city in the frontier that has evaded much of the attention of urban studies scholars. Ceasefire City provides ethnographic insights into the city of Dimapur, the largest city in the state of Nagaland, North-east India. Dimapur is rapidly growing and is emerging from decades of armed conflict while continuing to be militarised and hosting conflict-linked insecurities. Kikon and McDuie-Ra offer crucial insights into the overlapping contestations and compromises between various communities, elites and citizens that make Dimapur. The book is presented in two parts. Part 1: Space, constitutes the first two chapters. Chapter 1, ‘Migrant city, tribal territory’, unravels the core tensions at the heart of Dimapur’s urban politics, tensions that encompass building a sense of belonging in a ‘migrant city’, the ways churches and other structures act as markets for Dimapur’s urban villages and communities, the politics surrounding memorials to those who have been killed during periods of armed tension and conflict in the city, and the uneven ways rules and regimes are enacted and subverted in Dimapur. Chapter 2, ‘Producing urban space’, analyses attempts by local and central governments to make Dimapur more ‘city like’, to put Dimapur ‘on the map’, to impose order on the urban landscape. The chapter considers the efforts of local governments in the city to promote and enforce urban sensibilities. Part 2: Stories, constitutes chapters 3, 4 and 5 of the book. Chapter 3, ‘Audible city’, explores the ways the ceasefire city is experienced through its music, proposing the concept of the ‘audible city’ to talk about ways of hearing and discerning the history and memory of Dimapur through interviews and discussions with the city’s sound engineers, recording artists and composers. Chapter 4, ‘Huntingscape’, explores the ways in which Naga hunting traditions are recast in the city as a place-making strategy and highlights the inter-species relationships that persevere in the urban environment. Chapter 5, ‘Dying in Dimapur’ examines dying as a process of place-making, the emergence of cemeteries in a city that is characterised by movement and migration – a transient space – and offers a rich ethnography of coffin making in the ceasefire city. The book’s epilogue discusses place-making in Dimapur and why Dimapur matters. The authors close with an open question, a dilemma, ‘does Dimapur play a role in understanding urban India?’ Cautiously, the authors argue that Dimapur can offer little for understanding large cities such as Chennai or Kolkata but that studies of Dimapur are of relevance for urban studies and urban ethnography for smaller emerging sites. Some examples of these include Sittwe or Myitkyina (Myanmar), Aceh or Pontianak (Indonesia) and Hargesia or Mogadishu (Somaliland/Somalia) (p. 222).

Coming to a deeper understanding of Dimapur offers lessons for emerging urban forms in frontier spaces and other ‘small cities’ that have often been overlooked in studies of urbanisation (Robinson, 2013). Considering smaller, less ‘global’ and more peripheral cities and towns offers new insights into the ways urbanisation takes place, and the contestations, compromises and intersections that occur in urban sites. What Kikon and McDuie-Ra find in Dimapur are contestations for control of the city, debates about the direction that urbanisation should take, and overlapping and sometimes coalescing forms of identity linked to living in a growing and connected urban city in a tribal state in North-east India, a city which hosts armed conflict and continues to be militarised. Kikon and McDuie-Ra’s Ceasefire City: Militarism, Capitalism and Urbanism in Dimapur is a valuable and significant contribution to understandings of cities, urbanisation and urban livelihoods in contexts that are marked by upheaval and disorder but that also contain hope and the promise of change.



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