I am a PhD Candidate at the Department of Geography at Rutgers University. My doctoral research is the first institutional ethnography of one of the world’s largest urban bureaucracies, the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM). Through unique access secured through previous work experience as an urban planner in the MCGM, I follow the ‘fixers’ within the Development Plan (DP) department who move files or make them disappear, bargain with bureaucrats, and assess building plans. In doing so, I also demonstrate how the abstract tools of spatial planning – the ‘Development Plan’ used by the local state to order the city in Mumbai – become translated into lively material systems and historically layered symbolic codes employed across the various levels of bureaucracy.
The largest urban bureaucracy in South Asia, the MCGM is in a state of transition from paper to digital record-keeping, which I pay close attention to in my research. I posit that an elusive figure – the fixer operating within the bureaucracy, governs this transition by their historical, material, and symbolic practices. I define fixing as a practice of correction or improvement in the context of structural discontinuity, as an act of fixing an object in place within a space of constant change, and a form of knowingexactly where to apply the fix in an exceptionally unwieldy political milieu. I begin to decipher the functioning of the incoherent bureaucratic state power in the postcolonial world by tracing the structural affinities between the field of fixing and that of bureaucracy. In identifying actors who are constantly in a practical pursuit of their interests within these fields, I begin to decipher state power in India and elsewhere.