Professor Duncan McDuie-Ra

Professor Duncan McDuie-Ra

Professor of Urban Sociology

School of Humanities and Social Science

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.

Image of Duncan

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.

Image of Duncan

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…

Read more

Career Summary


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: 

Asian Borderlands Book Series (Amsterdam Univ. Press)

South Asia: journal of South Asian Studies

Contemporary South Asia

ASAA South Asia 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:

Northeast Migrants in Delhi & Borderland City

And some of my shorter pieces are available open-access too: 

Learning to Love the City; Concrete and Culture in Northeast India; School Versus Paddy


  • Doctor of Philosophy, University of New South Wales
  • Master of Arts(Politics & International Relations), University of New South Wales


  • Borderlands
  • Cities
  • Concrete
  • Digital Urbanism
  • Environmental Justice
  • Frontiers
  • Gender and Masculinity
  • Infrastructure
  • Piracy and Fakes
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Ruins
  • South Asia
  • Technology
  • Urbanization

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
160810 Urban Sociology and Community Studies 20
160803 Race and Ethnic Relations 30
160404 Urban and Regional Studies (excl. Planning) 50

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
Professor of Urban Sociology University of Newcastle
School of Humanities and Social Science

Academic appointment

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)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2021 McDuie-Ra D, Skateboarding and Urban Landscapes in Asia: Endless Spots, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, 232 (2021)
DOI 10.5117/9789463723138
2020 Kikon D, McDuie-Ra D, Ceasefire City: Militarism, Capitalism, and Urbanism in Dimapur, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 284 (2020)
2018 Williams M, McDuie-Ra D, Combatting Climate Change in the Pacific, Springer International Publishing, New York (2018)
DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-69647-8
2016 McDuie-Ra D, Borderland City in New India: Frontier to Gateway, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam (2016)
DOI 10.26530/OAPEN_605035
2015 McDuie-Ra D, Debating Race in Contemporary India, Palgrave Macmillan/Springer, London/ New York (2015)
DOI 10.1057/9781137538987
2012 McDuie-Ra D, Northeast Migrants in Delhi : Race, Refuge and Retail, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam (2012)
DOI 10.26530/oapen_424531
2011 Deo N, McDuie-Ra D, The politics of collective advocacy in India: tools and traps, Kumarian Press/ Lynne Reiner, Boulder, CO (2011)
Show 4 more books

Chapter (16 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2021 McDuie-Ra D, 'Smart Enclaves in the Borderland: Digital Obligations in Northeast India', Development Zones in Asian Borderlands, Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam (2021)
2019 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)
DOI 10.1002/9781119412090
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]
DOI 10.1017/9781108686716
2019 McDuie-Ra D, 'Afterword: Bridging Ruptures', Leaving the Land: Indigenous Migration and Affective Labour in India, D. Kikon and B. Karlsson, Cambridge University Press, Delhi 134-138 (2019)
DOI 10.1017/9781108637817.009
2018 McDuie-Ra D, 'Kakching Gardens: Experiments in Normalcy in Manipur', Women and Borders: Refugees, Migrants and Communities, I.B Tauris, London/New York 217-236 (2018)
2017 McDuie-Ra D, Robinson D, 'Pirate places in Bangkok: IPRs, vendors and urban order.', Property, Place and Piracy, Routledge, London 202-217 (2017)
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)
Citations Scopus - 1
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)
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)
DOI 10.1017/CBO9781316338155.003
2014 McDuie-Ra D, 'Globalisation', Sociologic: Analysing Everyday Life and Culture, Oxford University Press, Melbourne 331-346 (2014)
2014 McDuie-Ra D, 'Being a Tribal Man: Migration, Morality, and Masculinity', Gender and Masculinities: Histories, Texts and Practices in India and Sri Lanka, Routledge, New Delhi 126-148 (2014)
2014 McDuie-Ra D, 'Borders, Territory, and Ethnicity', Border Politics: Social Movements, Collective Identities, and Globalization, NYU Press, New York 95-119 (2014)
DOI 10.18574/nyu/9781479898992.003.0004
2013 McDuie-Ra D, 'Flexible, Exotic, Unorganized: Frontier Women in Indian Cities', The Global Political Economy of the Household in Asia, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke 77-93 (2013)
DOI 10.1057/9781137338907_6
2013 McDuie-Ra D, 'Deep Democracy or Ethno-centrism? Locating Voice in the Protests against Development in Northeast India', Routeing Democracy in the Himalayas: Experiments and Experiences, Routledge, New Delhi 133-155 (2013)
2012 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.

DOI 10.1007/978-94-007-1799-2_6
McDuie-Ra D, 'Being a tribal man from the North-East: migration, morality, and masculinity', Gender and Masculinities, Routledge 84-99
DOI 10.4324/9781315093710-6
Show 13 more chapters

Journal article (22 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2021 McDuie-Ra D, 'The Ludic Lives of Memoryscapes: skateboarding post-Soviet peripheries', Memory Studies, (2021)
2021 McDuie-Ra D, 'Mobilizing bodies and body parts from Myanmar to Manipur: medical connections through borderlands in transition', MODERN ASIAN STUDIES, 55 (2021)
DOI 10.1017/S00226749X2000027X
2020 Chettri M, McDuie-Ra D, 'Delinquent Borderlands: Disorder and Exception in the Eastern Himalaya', Journal of Borderlands Studies, 35 709-723 (2020)
DOI 10.1080/08865655.2018.1452166
Citations Scopus - 2
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]
DOI 10.1016/j.emospa.2020.100683
2020 McDuie-Ra D, Gulson K, 'The Backroads of AI: The Uneven Geographies of Artificial Intelligence and Development', AREA, 52 626-633 (2020) [C1]
DOI 10.1111/area.12602
Citations Scopus - 1Web of Science - 1
2020 McDuie-Ra D, 'Chasing the Concrete Dragon: China s Urban Landscapes in Skate Video', Space and Culture, 1-14 (2020)
DOI 10.1177/1206331220916390
2020 McDuie-Ra D, Chettri M, 'Concreting the frontier: Modernity and its entanglements in Sikkim, India', POLITICAL GEOGRAPHY, 76 1-28 (2020) [C1]
DOI 10.1016/j.polgeo.2019.102089
Citations Scopus - 2Web of Science - 2
2019 McDuie-Ra D, Lai L, 'Smart Cities, Backward Frontiers: digital urbanism in India s north-east', Contemporary South Asia, 27 358-372 (2019) [C1]
DOI 10.1080/09584935.2019.1647144
2019 McDuie-Ra D, 'Fragmented States: "Modernizing" Northeast India', Marg: A Magazine of the Arts, 71 20-27 (2019)
2018 McDuie-Ra D, 'India s Sporting Frontier: Race, Integration and Discontent in the North-east.', IIC Quarterly, 44 125-139 (2018)
2018 McDuie-Ra D, Chettri M, 'Himalayan Boom Town: Rural-Urban Transformations in Namchi, Sikkim', Development and Change, 49 1471-1494 (2018)
DOI 10.1111/dech.12450
Citations Scopus - 4Web of Science - 4
2018 McDuie-Ra D, 'Concrete and Culture in Northeast India.', Raiot, (2018)
2018 Robinson DF, McDuie-Ra D, '(En)countering counterfeits in Bangkok: the urban spatial interlegalities of intellectual property law, enforcement and tolerance', The Geographical Journal, 184 41-52 (2018)
DOI 10.1111/geoj.12209
Citations Scopus - 3Web of Science - 2
2017 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)
DOI 10.1080/00856401.2017.1373413
Citations Scopus - 5Web of Science - 4
2017 McDuie-Ra D, 'Learning to Love the City in Northeast India', IIAS Newsletter, 77 29-32 (2017)
2016 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)
DOI 10.1016/j.enpol.2016.05.021
Citations Scopus - 8Web of Science - 9
2015 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.

DOI 10.1093/heapol/czt096
Citations Scopus - 14Web of Science - 13
2013 McDuie-Ra D, 'Leaving the Northeast Borderland: Place-making and the Inward Pull of Citizenship in India', Eurasia Border Review, 4 1-17 (2013)
2012 Mcduie-Ra D, 'The Politics of Postcolonialism: Empire, Nation and Resistance.', ASIAN STUDIES REVIEW, 36 593-594 (2012)
DOI 10.1080/10357823.2012.740935
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.

Citations Scopus - 8
2008 McDuie-RA D, 'Between National Security and Ethno-nationalism: The Regional Politics of Development in Northeast India', Journal of South Asian Development, 3 185-210 (2008)
DOI 10.1177/097317410800300201
2007 McDuie-Ra D, 'Anti-development or identity crisis? Misreading civil society in Meghalaya, India', Asian Ethnicity, 8 43-59 (2007)
DOI 10.1080/14631360601146182
Show 19 more journal articles

Other (2 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2016 McDuie-Ra D, McDuie-Ra D, 'Borderland City in New India: frontier to gateway', (2016)
DOI 10.17613/m63d53
2012 McDuie-Ra D, McDuie-Ra D, 'Northeast Migrants In Delhi: Race, refuge and retail', (2012)
DOI 10.17613/m6rz10


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University of Newcastle sociology students are exchanging diverse perspectives and collaborating with their peers at the University of Texas in Austin USA in a unique global virtual exchange program.

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What does this mean for our future society and culture? Indeed, for the future of humanity?These and other questions were considered at a public forum on the topic of artificial intelligence hosted by the Centre for 21st Century Humanities recently.

Professor Duncan McDuie-Ra


Professor of Urban Sociology
School of Humanities and Social Science
Faculty of Education and Arts

Contact Details

Phone (02) 491 38714
Links Personal webpage
Personal Blogs


Room W.315
Building Behavioural Sciences