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Fieldwork is central to our research projects - it offers us an active interface with civil society and government organisations at different scales. Not only does it enable us to disseminate our research findings but it offers us the opportunity to include their priorities in our research and to collaboratively produce knowledge. Though a large chunk of our work has been located in Maharashtra, particularly across some small and medium towns such as Solapur, Ratnagiri, Akola, Pune etc, we have also been undertaking fieldwork in North Eastern states, Gujarat in the west, in Kolkata and Bhubaneshwar in the east, and Chennai and Coimbatore in the South with the help of strong local collaborators.
The insistence upon a strong engagement with the field, particularly smaller towns and medium sized settlements, has led to a significantly richer and nuanced framing of urban issues. While students have benefited from the experience of urban immersion and the techniques used to frame issues, collect and analyse data; the faculty have been enriched by the diversity of data and political economic arrangements in these different urban settings and scales. Deep and long lasting relationships have been carved out with civil society organisations and academic collaborators in these towns and cities. In some cases, our research findings have been used by the local partners to push for reforms and urban improvement projects.
One of the most important field projects the Centre is involved is ‘Transforming M Ward : Leveraging Knowledge for Social Transformation’. M Ward is the immediate neighbourhood of TISS; and the Centre has been actively involved in research and advocacy initiatives for ward’s marginalised populations for several decades now. The students and faculty of TISS have also used the ward as a teaching and experience base for years.
The project was launched through ambitious base line studies in November 2011 which involved all students and faculty in the Mumbai campus. These studies enumerated 1,20,000 households from slums and gaothans in M Ward. A socioeconomic survey of 20,000 households was then conducted with the help of students, faculty and volunteers from slum communities. Further, a study of reproductive health of women and a nutritional check of children under five years of age was also carried out. Parallely, the base line studies carried out a census of homeless persons in the ward, an assessment of basic amenities and video documented oral histories of slum communities. Subsequently, a micro planning involving above 78 communities in the ward was conducted. The learnings from these studies have been immense and have fed into several efforts of transformation.
Field immersion is also central to the MUPG and there are specifically two courses within the program that are designed to give students a guided and focused exposure to complex, real life urban issues.
The Summer/Winter Institute is an intensely immersive two week course that students undergo to examine contemporary urban issues in a particular urban location outside Mumbai using participatory research approaches that emphasizes the multiple communities, the lived reality and complex dynamics and politics of urban spaces. In the past, students have worked in Udaipur with Foundation for Ecological Security (FES) on urban water conservation, in Bhuj with Hunnarshala Foundation on affordable housing, migration and urban livelihoods, in Pune with Centre for Environment and Education on informal street vending, and in Vasai Virar on the conservation of urban lakes.
The Urban Studio is a semester long course through which faculty guide the students in actively engaging with a specific urban thematic in an attempt to understand it from different perspectives and at multiple scales. It involves the use of different techniques and skills such as mapping, use of large data sets, and policy and stakeholder analysis in addition to engagement with local communities.
In the past, the studio space has been used to examine governance of urban open spaces, accessibility to public toilets and sanitation, and the lack of public schools in underserved areas such as M ward, Mumbai which where TISS is located. In future, the studio will address country wide issues such as the lack of affordable housing, water and sanitation, public transport, and livelihood and migration using census, NSSO and economic survey data.
In addition, students are also required to go through a one and a half month internship in the summer with an organisation of their choice and in most cases, they are required to be in the field, or interact with multiple stakeholders as part of this work. Several assignments across courses demand that students reflect critically from their knowledge and experience of the field.
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