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Periodic Reporting for period 4 - MONASS (MONSOON ASSEMBLAGES)

Reporting period: 2020-11-01 to 2021-10-31

The ambition of this research project was to investigate relations between changing monsoon climates and neo-liberal urban growth in four of South Asia’s rapidly growing cities – Chennai, Delhi, Dhaka and Yangon. It was undertaken at a time when the cities were experiencing water shortages, power failures, floods, out-breaks of disease, damage to property and loss of life, all attributed to the monsoon, with increased frequency. In responding to these circumstances, the project challenged the dominant view of the monsoon as an external cause of these disasters, and Instead approached it as a system within which social, political, everyday and multi-species life unfold. The project thus approached the monsoon as a way of understanding cities rather than as something to climate-proof them against. The thesis was that by tuning urban development to monsoonal logics, ways of forging more resilient urban futures might emerge.
The project used two primary methods of research - cartography and ethnography. On the one hand it used open source climate data and digital tools to map the monsoon as a planetary weather system. At the same time, it mapped the cities it was researching as part of this monsoonal system. In parallel with cartographic research, the project approached the lived reality of the monsoon using ethnographic research methods. It undertook field work, where it walked, talked, ate, observed, photographed and interviewed, and through these methods found out how entangled lives were with the monsoon in the places it was studying. Cartography and ethnography enabled the project to build up new intersectional understandings of the intimate entanglements between the monsoon and urban and social processes and to conclude that, for climate change to be weathered in monsoonal cities, urban development should be re-tuned to monsoonal rhythms and cycles in more materialist, multi-sectoral, multispecies and interdisciplinary ways.

The project was divided into five consecutive research packages, each a year long. During the first year (April 2016-March 2017), the project team was hired, PhD researchers selected, literature review conducted and the first Master of Architecture (MArch) design studio taught (including a studio field trip to Chennai). The first period field work by the project team was planned in Chennai for the next Research Package. At the end of Research Package 1, the first of three annual research symposia, ‘Monsoon [+ other] Airs’ was hosted in order for the project team to extend its networks and deepen its responses to its research questions. During Research Package 2 (April 2017-March 2018), an eight week period of field work in Chennai was undertaken, the second MArch design studio was taught (including a studio field trip to Bangladesh), and a second period of field work by the project team, in Bangladesh, was planned for Research Package 3. At the end of the Research Package 2, the second of three annual research symposia, ‘Monsoon [+ other] Waters’ was hosted. During Research Package 3 (April 2018-March 2019), a four week period of field work was conducted in Bangladesh, the third MArch design studio was taught (including a studio field trip to Myanmar), and a third period of field work by the project team, in Myanmar, was planned for Research Package 4. At the end of Research Package 3, the third and final research symposium, ‘Monsoon [+ other] Grounds’ was hosted. During Research Package 4 (April 2019-March 2020), a four week period of field work in Myanmar and a short return trip to Dhaka was undertaken. This was followed by an intensive period of analysis, writing and dissemination, culminating, during Research Package 5 (April 2020-March 2021, extended till October 2021) in an intensive series of online dissemination events, an online exhibition, the special issue of a journal and a book monograph. It should be noted that exhibitions and dissemination events planned for each of the cities during Research Package 5 had to be abandoned due to the Covid 19 pandemic, but that these were replaced by online alternatives. During Research Package 5, both PhD researchers successfully defended their PhD theses.

As a result of this research grant, an approach to the design of monsoonal cities with rather than against the monsoon has been tested and promoted. It has been disseminated through publication in scientific and peer reviewed journals and non-peer reviewed publications, through presentation at scientific conferences and workshops, through an artists’ residency, through exhibitions, both physical and online, and through press releases, social media and YouTube. As a result, the project has been disseminated to 5,700 members of scientific communities, 72,462 members of professional (industrial) communities, 143 members of civil society, 376,890 members of the general public and 23 policy makers. In addition the 45 March students who participated in the project and are now successfully employed in professional life.
The project developed and advanced a new inter-disciplinary research field, Monsoonal Studies, around the idea of the monsoon as a method of research and a way of thinking. The project operated between sites and disciplines, across scales, times and species and brought together multiple forms of knowledge and being, using cartography and ethnography as its primary research methods. This approach enabled it to get beyond normative, problem solving approaches to climate change in monsoonal cities and to uncover hitherto unforeseen connections and interrelations between the monsoon and neoliberal growth in Chennai, Dhaka, Yangon and Delhi. Furthermore, by investigating interrelations between human, nonhuman and planetary systems, it proposed a method for building more resilient, equitable urban futures.
A speculative map of the global monsoon, July - December 2018.
Sand filled land, Madani Avenue, Dhaka, 2018.
Beth Cullen draws a monsoonal calendar with the Bede people, Porabari, Bangaldesh, 2018.
Marshland building, Anandammal Nagar, Medavakkam, Chennai, 2017.