Next-door strangers: Revisiting the ‘neighbour’ and exploring collective efficacy as a means of survival in riot-affected neighbourhoods of Ahmedabad, India

Tuesday Seminar
Event Speaker: 
Raheel Dhattiwala
Event Time: 
02:57 PM to 04:27 PM
Event Venue: 
HSS Committee Room (MS 610)


Religious segregation demonstrates the tendency of like-minded people to gather in the same places. In conflict settings, such homophily also serves the added purpose of safety in numbers. Yet in the face of rapid urbanization and escalated land prices, people are sometimes unable to relocate to neighbourhoods of choice and find themselves restricted to living in mixed neighbourhoods. In the aftermath of ethnic riots in India, the absence of judicial redress also compels victims and perpetrators of violence to share everyday spaces. How do these neighbourhoods survive and what mechanisms generate cohesive neighbourliness?

This paper uses ethnographic data combined with cognitive maps to compare seven heterogeneous neighbourhoods in Ahmedabad with varying histories of ethnic violence. Preliminary findings suggest a re-conceptualisation of the ‘neighbour’. Whereas spatial proximity is essential to being a neighbour, it is not sufficient: respondents self-reported their ‘optimal’ neighbour as residing several blocks away from their own residence. At the same time, superficial friendliness with proximate households becomes necessary in public despite antipathy in private. Such contradictory behaviour, I argue, serves to assuage antipathy and ensure neighbourhood collective efficacy as a means of survival in mixed neighbourhoods facing imminent violence. Findings also demonstrate that mixed neighbourhoods are not necessarily indicative of cosmopolitanism.


Raheel Dhattiwala is a sociologist by training. She read for an M.Sc. and a D.Phil. (Ph.D.) in Sociology at the University of Oxford. Her thesis explored spatial variation in Hindu-Muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002: why did violence occur in some places, not others? A book with Cambridge University Press based on this research is forthcoming. Currently, she works as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Sociology, University of Amsterdam, as part of a European Research Council-funded project on the multimodal analysis of group violence. Her research interests include the study of intergroup relations and ethnic violence, particularly the spatial component of collective violence. She has published in Politics & Society, Qualitative Sociology, Contemporary South Asia, and Economic & Political Weekly. She has also worked as a public policy scholar at the Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy (Chennai) and a postdoctoral researcher at the University of South Australia (Adelaide). Prior to entering academia, she worked as a senior reporter at the Times of India in Ahmedabad (2002-2007) and continues to occasionally write for The Hindu and other publications.