Professor Duncan McDuie-Ra
Professor of Urban Sociology
School of Humanities and Social Science
- Phone:(02) 491 38714
Life in the borderlands
Professor Duncan McDuie-Ra examines the relationship between rural-urban space migration and the kind of world this creates, particularly in the borderlands of India.
Typically research on urbanisation focuses on mega cities such as Sydney, Rome or Delhi. However, Professor Duncan McDuie-Ra is a sociologist whose research interest lies in the smaller cities of less than a million people, as it is these cities that are growing the fastest and where the majority of people experience urban life in the Global South.
His specialty is exploring what it is like to live in smaller cities in remote areas and borderlands.
“These cities pose some very interesting challenges for how we understand urbanisation, poverty, mobility and livelihoods. Smaller cities also pose a number of things we can learn from in terms of how they are governed, organised, their use of technology and how infrastructure is deployed,” Professor McDuie-Ra said.
It’s landscapes that have always moved McDuie-Ra - for him they’re emotional and accessible. He is interested in the visual aspects of the landscape and questions the juxtapositions like little hair salons next to mechanic shops and what that means about people who migrate there.
“Why are these migrants moving there? What’s happening in their lives? How are bigger things like conflict, wars, famine, and environmental degradation rupturing the migrant’s lives? There are other forces at play too. People also move because they are attracted and have aspirations for a bigger and better life, there’s a lot that anyone can relate to in those stories,” he said.
Ever since a young age McDuie-Ra has been fascinated with frontiers and those places on a map where one country ends and another begins.
“Growing up in Australia we don't have land borders, but for me there’s something about that spot where India ends and Myanmar begins. What does that look like on the ground? What are the communities and people like between those? What can those towns tell us about borders, are they effective? Do they matter or not?” McDuie-Ra said.
He says that the region of North East India, on which he focuses, is unique because it’s outside the main national frame of India in terms of ethnic and racial destinations.
“It’s a wad of territory almost cut off from India and its borders are with other countries - it’s a classic border zone. It’s a kind of geo-political oddity that has always fascinated me and I want to understand it better in terms of the people that live there, how it’s changing, and what happens when you start connecting countries.”
Frontiers of India
His 2016 book, Borderland City in New India: Frontier to Gateway, focuses on the city of Imphal, in the state of Manipur and on the border with Myanmar. He says he was drawn to Imphal for a long time because of its history of conflict and transformation to an urban environment.
“Imphal was a frontier city, violent, dangerous and excluded from mainstream national development protocol as it was a separatist region. However in the last decade it is increasingly seen as gateway connecting India to South East Asia. The city has been transformed by an infrastructure of connectivity. We often talk about globalisation or regional integration but what it actually looks like on the ground is big roads going through the cities like Imphal,” McDuie-Ra said.
“Imphal often goes through sporadic conflict and there are times where it is blockaded from the rest of India through protests often for 3-4 months at a time. I wanted to examine how people make life in the city and how the city continues to grow despite its challenges. What drives that growth?” he questioned.
McDuie-Ra undertook much of his research on foot around Imphal, encountering people that helped to piece together the puzzle of what it was to live in the city.
“I was walking in a city where no one walks because they’re genuinely worried about safety, so it was very interesting and emotionally taxing.”
The book examines how people feel a sense of belonging in the city and neighbourhoods, control and how people live in an environment that the military has occupied for a long time and how ethnic politics plays out in the city.
“I also wrote about the growth in private schools and how this has happened because the public system is so dysfunctional. Land for the private schools is often on the outskirts of the city and it’s changing the way education works and the way parents pay for education – they have to take out loans. It’s interesting because it’s an abandonment by the people of the government provision of school because the government is so useless,” McDuie-Ra said.
Cease Fire City
Professor McDuie-Ra has a forthcoming book also focused on North East India, this time in Dimapur, which is in the Nagaland state next to Manipur.
The book, Cease Fire City – militarism, capitalism and urbanism in Dimapur is co-authored by Dr Dolly Kikon from the University of Melbourne. Following on from Borderland City in New India: Frontier to Gateway, the authors apply a lot of the same questions to Dimapur, however Dimapur is unique because it has gone through 20 years of cease-fire negotiations.
“Dimapur is interesting because it’s a commercial capital of a region that fought a long separatist war with India. The Naga Homelands Movement fought against the Indian government and in 1997 there was a cease-fire. The reason the book is called Cease Fire City is because they haven’t yet come to a final peace agreement,” McDuie-Ra said.
The book questions how do cities grow when they’ve been through conflict and suddenly have peace? McDuie-Ra says the subtitle, Militarism, Capitalism and Urbanism refers to the fact that Dimpur is still a very militarised city with a huge Indian Army presence.
Capitalism refers to how business has grown since the cease-fire and what money making opportunities have flowed since then. The authors also examine how the conflict itself bought people to the city seeking safety and how the cease-fire has solidified their residence.
“That led us to look at urbanisation – how the city is making itself more city like. It was a collection of settlements, bases and supply colonies that is now trying to be governed and look more like a city. The Indian government is starting to fund local councils, but it’s a complicated urban environment because it’s Indigenous land, so there is a complex legal arrangement and pockets of different governance and territorial control.”
In terms of research methodology, in Dimapur McDuie-Ra spent less time talking to people and more time taking photos and asking locals about the images.
“Communicating through image was a bit easier. Rather than trying to establish a common terminology, I found that if we had images to refer to we could be quite specific about what it was and what they meant.”
The book is due to be released in late 2019 with Oxford University Press.
Professor Duncan McDuie-Ra examines the relationship between rural-urban space migration and the kind of world this creates, particularly in the borderlands of India.Typically research on urbanisation focuses on mega cities such as Sydney, Rome or Delhi. However, Professor Duncan McDuie-Ra…
I joined University of Newcastle in 2019 as Professor of Urban Sociology after more than a decade at UNSW Sydney where I was a Professor (2016-18), Associate Professor (2013-15), Senior Lecturer (2010-12) and Lecturer (2007-10); all in Development Studies. I also served a term as Associate Dean Research in the Faculty of Arts at UNSW (2013-2016).
My research focuses on 'emerging urban forms': towns, cities and industrial zones undergoing rapid growth or slated for new interventions, especially digital and networked infrastructure.
Most of my research has been in South Asia, particularly the borderlands of Northeast India, with collaborative work in other contexts. I have also worked on race and ethnicity in South Asia, frontiers, concrete, migration (especially youth migration from the borderlands) extractive industries and communities, intellectual property and urban space, and various other inter-connected themes.
I skateboard daily and fall often.
I hold a number of editorial roles with journals and book series:
I am a member of the Asian Borderlands Research Network committee.
Two of my monographs with Amsterdam University Press have been made open access under the EU's OAPEN program:
And some of my shorter pieces are available open-access too:
- Doctor of Philosophy, University of New South Wales
- Master of Arts(Politics & International Relations), University of New South Wales
- Digital Urbanism
- Environmental Justice
- Gender and Masculinity
- Piracy and Fakes
- Race and Ethnicity
- South Asia
Fields of Research
|160810||Urban Sociology and Community Studies||20|
|160803||Race and Ethnic Relations||30|
|160404||Urban and Regional Studies (excl. Planning)||50|
|Title||Organisation / Department|
|Professor of Urban Sociology||University of Newcastle
School of Humanities and Social Science
|Dates||Title||Organisation / Department|
|30/10/2013 - 30/6/2016||Associate Dean Research, Faculty of Arts||UNSW
Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences
|1/1/2016 - 1/2/2019||Professor of Development Studies||UNSW
|1/1/2013 - 31/12/2015||Associate Professor of Development Studies||UNSW
|1/7/2010 - 31/12/2012||Senior Lecturer in Development Studies||UNSW
|1/1/2008 - 30/6/2010||Lecturer in Development Studies||UNSW
For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.
Book (7 outputs)
McDuie-Ra D, Skateboarding and Urban Landscapes in Asia: Endless Spots, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 232 (2021)
|2020||Kikon D, McDuie-Ra D, Ceasefire City: Militarism, Capitalism, and Urbanism in Dimapur, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 284 (2020)|
Williams M, McDuie-Ra D, Combatting Climate Change in the Pacific, Springer International Publishing, New York (2018)
McDuie-Ra D, Borderland City in New India: Frontier to Gateway, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam (2016)
|Show 4 more books|
Chapter (16 outputs)
|2021||McDuie-Ra D, 'Smart Enclaves in the Borderland: Digital Obligations in Northeast India', Development Zones in Asian Borderlands, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam (2021)|
McDuie-Ra D, 'Private Healthcare in Imphal, Manipur: Liberalizing the Unruly Frontier', Frontier Assemblages: The Emergent Politics of Resource Frontiers in Asia, Wiley, London 171-186 (2019)
McDuie-Ra D, 'Embracing or Challenging the Tribe ? Dilemmas in Reproducing Obligatory Pasts in Meghalaya', Landscape, Culture, and Belonging Writing the History of Northeast India, Cambridge University Press, New Delhi 66-86 (2019) [B1]
|2017||McDuie-Ra D, Robinson D, 'Pirate places in Bangkok: IPRs, vendors and urban order.', Property, Place and Piracy, Routledge, London 202-217 (2017)|
McDuie-Ra D, 'Solidarity, Visibility and Vulnerability: Northeast as a Racial Category in India.', Northeast India A Place of Relations, Cambridge University Press, New Delhi 27-44 (2017)
|2016||McDuie-Ra D, 'Cosmopolitan Tribals: frontier migrants in Delhi', The Scheduled Tribes and Their India Politics, Identities, Policies, and Work, Oxford University Press, New Delhi 597-618 (2016)|
McDuie-Ra D, 'Children and Civil Society in South Asia: Subjects, Participants and Political Agents', Children and Violence, Cambridge University Press, New Delhi 46-61 (2016)
McDuie-Ra D, 'Insecurity Within and outside the state: The regional and local dynamics of environmental insecurity in the mekong', Human Security: Securing East Asia's Future 115-134 (2012)
© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012. Environmental security has become perhaps the most prominent of the seven aspects of human security conceived by the United Nations De... [more]
© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012. Environmental security has become perhaps the most prominent of the seven aspects of human security conceived by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 1994 (UNDP 1994 ). As environmental issues have risen in importance in global politics environmental security has become a cornerstone of thinking and policy making in the spheres of development, security, and international cooperation. Despite the strong rhetorical commitment to environmental norms from governments, international organizations, and various non-state actors, environmental degradation continues to produce insecurity for vast numbers of people, and East Asia is no exception. This chapter examines the dynamics of environment insecurity in the Mekong region; specifi cally in the lower Mekong states of Cambodia , Lao People's Democratic Republic (Lao PDR hereafter), and Vietnam . The region has been selected owing to the extent of environmental change occurring in the last 20 years as post-Cold War economic, political and social relationships have transformed the region. The Mekong provides a compelling example of the various extra-regional and intraregional dynamics shaping the production of environmental insecurity at the inter-state, national, and local levels.
|Show 13 more chapters|
Journal article (22 outputs)
|2021||McDuie-Ra D, 'The Ludic Lives of Memoryscapes: skateboarding post-Soviet peripheries', Memory Studies, (2021)|
McDuie-Ra D, 'Mobilizing bodies and body parts from Myanmar to Manipur: medical connections through borderlands in transition', MODERN ASIAN STUDIES, 55 (2021)
Chettri M, McDuie-Ra D, 'Delinquent Borderlands: Disorder and Exception in the Eastern Himalaya', Journal of Borderlands Studies, 35 709-723 (2020)
McDuie-Ra D, Ho EL-E, Jakimow T, Somaiah BC, 'Collaborative ethnographies: Reading space to build an affective inventory', Emotion Space and Society, 35 1-10 (2020) [C1]
McDuie-Ra D, Gulson K, 'The Backroads of AI: The Uneven Geographies of Artificial Intelligence and Development', AREA, 52 626-633 (2020) [C1]
McDuie-Ra D, 'Chasing the Concrete Dragon: China s Urban Landscapes in Skate Video', Space and Culture, 1-14 (2020)
McDuie-Ra D, Chettri M, 'Concreting the frontier: Modernity and its entanglements in Sikkim, India', POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY, 76 1-28 (2020) [C1]
McDuie-Ra D, Lai L, 'Smart Cities, Backward Frontiers: digital urbanism in India s north-east', Contemporary South Asia, 27 358-372 (2019) [C1]
Kikon D, McDuie-Ra D, 'English-Language Documents and Old Trucks: Creating Infrastructure in Nagaland's Coal Mining Villages', South Asia: Journal of South Asia Studies, 40 772-791 (2017)
|2017||McDuie-Ra D, 'Learning to Love the City in Northeast India', IIAS Newsletter, 77 29-32 (2017)|
McDuie-Ra D, Kikon D, 'Tribal communities and coal in Northeast India: The politics of imposing and resisting mining bans', Energy Policy, 99 261-269 (2016)
Pearson M, Zwi AB, Buckley NA, Manuweera G, Fernando R, Dawson AH, McDuie-Ra D, 'Policymaking 'under the radar': A case study of pesticide regulation to prevent intentional poisoning in Sri Lanka', Health Policy and Planning, 30 56-67 (2015)
© The Author 2013; all rights reserved. Background Suicide in Sri Lanka is a major public health problem and in 1995 the country had one of the highest rates of suicide worldwide.... [more]
© The Author 2013; all rights reserved. Background Suicide in Sri Lanka is a major public health problem and in 1995 the country had one of the highest rates of suicide worldwide. Since then reductions in overall suicide rates have been largely attributed to efforts to regulate a range of pesticides. The evolution, context, events and implementation of the key policy decisions around regulation are examined. Methods This study was undertaken as part of a broader analysis of policy in two parts - an explanatory case study and stakeholder analysis. This article describes the explanatory case study that included an historical narrative and in-depth interviews. Results A timeline and chronology of policy actions and influence were derived from interview and document data. Fourteen key informants were interviewed and four distinct policy phases were identified. The early stages of pesticide regulation were dominated by political and economic considerations and strongly influenced by external factors. The second phase was marked by a period of local institution building, the engagement of local stakeholders, and expanded links between health and agriculture. During the third phase the problem of self-poisoning dominated the policy agenda and closer links between stakeholders, evidence and policymaking developed. The fourth and most recent phase was characterized by strong local capacity for policymaking, informed by evidence, developed in collaboration with a powerful network of stakeholders, including international researchers. Conclusions The policy response to extremely high rates of suicide from intentional poisoning with pesticides shows a unique and successful example of policymaking to prevent suicide. It also highlights policy action taking place 'under the radar', thus avoiding policy inertia often associated with reforms in lower and middle income countries.
Mcduie-Ra D, 'The Politics of Postcolonialism: Empire, Nation and Resistance.', ASIAN STUDIES REVIEW, 36 593-594 (2012)
McDuie-Ra D, 'The 'north-east' map of Delhi', Economic and Political Weekly, 47 69-77 (2012)
Migration from the north-east frontier to Indian cities has increased rapidly in the last decade. Limited livelihood prospects, changing social aspirations and sporadic armed conf... [more]
Migration from the north-east frontier to Indian cities has increased rapidly in the last decade. Limited livelihood prospects, changing social aspirations and sporadic armed conflicts push migrants out of the region. Experiences of racism, violence and discrimination are crucial in shaping their lives. But this paper challenges the notion that north-easterners are solely "victims of the city". Instead it analyses the ways in which they create a sense of place through neighbourhoods, food, faith, and protest. This "north-east map of Delhi" allows the migrants to survive the city and to construct a cosmopolitan identity at odds with the ways they are stereotyped in the Indian mainstream.
|Show 19 more journal articles|
Other (2 outputs)
McDuie-Ra D, McDuie-Ra D, 'Borderland City in New India: frontier to gateway', (2016)
McDuie-Ra D, McDuie-Ra D, 'Northeast Migrants In Delhi: Race, refuge and retail', (2012)
August 13, 2020
October 25, 2019
Professor Duncan McDuie-Ra
Professor of Urban Sociology
School of Humanities and Social Science
Faculty of Education and Arts