In a special feature of City (Vol. 15, No. 6) entitled ‘Beyond the Return of the “Slum”’ as a tribute to Alan Gilbert’s work—with reference to his 2007 article—Pushpa Arabindoo (2011, 636) pleaded for‘a sincere engagement with in-depth, empirical case studies’ and ‘the need for a new direction in collecting ethnographies of the urban poor in India as they negotiate the current political and policy drive for creating “slum-free” cities’. The Illegal City de facto responds to this pertinent call by providing an in-depth monograph of a squatter settlement in contemporary Delhi.
Yet, the purpose of its author, Ayona Datta, is at the same time more ambitious and more specific than contributing to the literature on the urban poor in the global South. She seeks to ‘examine the relationship between space, law and gender through an intersectional lens’ (12), focusing on the everyday encounters with ‘the state’ and ‘the law’ as experienced by those living in squatter settlements, and the ways in which these encounters transform gendered relationships of social power at different levels, from the urban public sphere to the intimate spaces of the squatter homes.