Urban villages by the airport

Everyday entanglements of social-economic extremes and negotiations in anticipation of development-induced displacement in Mumbai and Abidjan.


The ethnographic research project analyses intersections of urban renewal, airport expansion, land tenure conflicts and contested affordable housing near international airports.

International airports are nodal points and important economic spaces for their cities in many ways. They play a crucial role in national economic development strategies and are thus among the top priorities of urban planners, city developers and national governments. Airports also act as symbols of modernity that many governments in countries of the Global South would like to exhibit to the outside world. Most international airports are spaces representing infrastructural standards of the Global North, as well as middle/ upper class habitus – no matter in which country they are actually situated. International airports in the Global South are very promising field sites for research on urban social-economic inequalities due to their dense spatial entanglements and high economic interdependencies of different income groups. The airport acts as a contact zone for people from socio-economic extremes where they meet, work and interact under strict regulations. The international airport in Mumbai (India) and Abidjan (Côte d ́Ivoire) are surrounded by densely populated urban villages (partly referred to as slums), which were illegally established by poor populations on the airport reserve and are highly contested for many decades. Mumbai and Abidjan display a dynamic pattern of slum formation, as well as a long historical record of displacement policies. Airport expansion trigger these urban policies and are about to change long-standing realities on the ground. We will also conduct research on airport formation in Navi Mumbai.

Research questions: (1) How have shared spaces, social entanglements and economic interdependencies between urban villages and international airports evolved over time? (2) In the context of airport expansion, which everyday practices of entanglement and deal-making strategies are employed by different interest groups to negotiate and enforce the persistence or change of land use around airports?

Eine Wissenschaftlerin und ein Wissenschaftler arbeiten hinter einer Glasfassade und mischen Chemikalien mit Großgeräten.
© AG Müller-Mahn/GIUB


Total six months of ethnographic field research in Mumbai and Abidjan. Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, we had to adjust  our research plans (total 4,5 months of field research with one year delay).

Initiation of a book edition “Contested airports. Case studies on social and environmental justice from Asia and Africa“ including conceptual chapters and case studies from Côte d´Ivoire, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Kenya & South Africa.

Funding partner

Fritz Thyssen Stiftung für Wissenschaftsförderung,

Further information

11/2020 Official start of the project
03/2021 Presentation at GEF working group, GIUB (Dr. Eguavoen)
04/2021 Presentation at the DGSKA working group "Stadtethnologie" (Dr. Eguavoen)
04/2021 First online meeting with authors of the book edition
04/2021 Presentation at American Association of Geographers Conference 2021 (Dr. Sharma)
05/2021 Presentation at the African Enviromental Law Conference, University of Cologne (Dr. Eguavoen)
06/2021 Presentation at GEF working group, GIUB (Dr. Sharma)
10/2021 - 01/2022 Field research in Mumbai, India
11/2021 - 12/2021 Field research in Abidjan, Côte d´Ivoire
03/2022 Presentation of field work at GEF working group, GIUB (Dr. Sharma)
05/2022 Presentation of field work at GEF working group, GIUB (Dr. Eguavoen)
06/2022 Presentation of research results at the VAD Conference in Freiburg (Dr. Eguavoen)
06/2022 Presentation of project & research results at „mittwochs am GIUB“ Colloquium
08/2022 Presentation of research results at Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference (Dr. Sharma)


Eguavoen, I. 2022. Land reclamation for housing - the example of Côte d’Ivoire. Rural 21 56 (1): 10-12. https://www.rural21.com/english/news/detail/article/land-reclamation-for-housing-the-example-of-cote-divoire.html

Sharma, S. 2022. Waste(d) Collectors: Politics of Urban Exclusion in Mumbai. Bielefeld: Transcript Verlag. ISBN: 978-3-8376-5824-8 

Related teaching

WS 2020/21: M7 „Cities of the global South : Urban Politics and marginality“

WS 2020/21: M3 „Politische Ökologie der Städte des Globalen Südens“

Potential themes for BSc./ MSc. thesis

  • Spatial analysis of LUC on airport land in Mumbai.
  • Spatial analysis of LUC on airport land in Abidjan.
  • International case studies related to the overall project objective.


11/2020 - 10/2022


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