“With that, discipline will also come to them”: The politics of the urban poor in postwar Colombo

Harini Amarasuriya, Jonathan Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


After the end of the country’s 30-year civil war in 2009, the Sri Lankan armed forces continued to grow despite the complete absence of obvious military threats to the government. Under the guidance of the president’s brother, the Ministry of Defence has played a leading role in town planning through the Urban Development Authority (which formally became part of the ministry in 2010). Colombo has seen an aggressive program of improvement, which started with a “war” on alleged underworld figures, took in the eviction of hawkers from pedestrian spaces, and involved the clearance of “substandard” housing, especially in places such as Slave Island, a historically dense area near the city center. In this paper we try to capture the temporal properties of a particular moment in the history of the city when speculative capital and military force combined in an attempt to bypass the well-worn channels of urban politics. At the end of the paper we consider events of early 2015, when the incumbent president was defeated and urban development was immediately removed from the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S66-S75
Number of pages10
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue numberS11
Early online date20 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - 31 Oct 2015

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