School of Geography

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Tom Cowan

Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences



I am an urban geographer with teaching and research expertise in post-colonial urbanisation, real estate development and labour migration. I hold a PhD in Urban Geography from the Department of Geography at King's College London. Prior to joining the School at Nottingham I was a Leverhulme Early Career Postdoctoral Fellow at University College London, and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Bergen. I have previously taught Human Geography at the London School of Economics and Political Science and at King's College London.

My research examines greenfield urban development projects in North India with a particular interest in the creation and governance of urban real estate and labour markets within agrarian settings. In particular, my work has explored processes of "agrarian urbanisation", examining the role that agrarian institutions, surpluses, actors and territories play in facilitating large-scale urban development projects.

I am currently a British Academy Wolfson Fellow (2023-2025), conducting a project, "Digital enclosures: automating property in India" that examines the politics of PropTech land titling schemes in rural and peri-urban areas of India.

My book, Subaltern Frontiers: agrarian city-making in Gurgaon, India was published by Cambridge University Press in December 2022. The book explores the social, political and economic geographies of India's spectacular urban transformation since the early 1990s, examining the development of the 'Gurgaon model' of privatised urban planning and development. The book argues that the production of real estate and labour markets in Gurgaon has relied upon the speculative remediation of agrarian property regimes, governance institutions, and class structures. The book builds upon scholarship within subaltern studies, postcolonial marxist geographies, feminist geographies and anthropologies of global real estate to develop a reading of contemporary urbanisation in north India.

Elsewhere my work has been published in Antipode, City, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, Focaal, Geoforum, and Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space.

Teaching Summary

My teaching focuses on introductory and advanced modules in Urban Geography, Digital Geography, Political Economy, International Development, and the Geographies of Gender, Labour and Property.

I contribute to a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate modules across the School of Geography. These include:

GEOG1005 Tutorial

GEOG2030 Research Tutorial

GEOG2034 Urban Geography

GEOG3007 European Urban Geographies

GEOG3061 Just Futures and their Geographies

PhD Supervision:

I welcome PhD candidates in geography interested in any area of research. I am particularly interested in supervising PhD projects focusing on the following subjects: Critical urban studies | Post-colonial urbanism | Labour geographies | Digital geographies & smart cities

Research Summary


2022. Subaltern frontiers: agrarian city-making in Gurgaon. Cambridge University Press.

Special Issues

Forthcoming, 2024. City drafting: bureaucratic urbanism and property-making in South Asia, co-edited with Indivar Jonnalagadda. City.

2023. Rethinking surplus populations: theorizing from the peripheries, co-edited with Stephen Campbell and Don Kalb. Focaal.

2018. Enclosures and discontents. primitive accumulation and resistance under global capital, co-edited with Lisa Tilly and Ashok Kumar. City.

Journal Articles

Under review. 'Urbanisation without guarantees: rent, occupancy and blockade'.

2023. 'Theorizing peripheral labour: rethinking surplus populations'. With Campbell S., and Kalb D., Focaal: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 97, 7-21

2021. 'Uncertain Grounds: cartographic negotiation and digitized property on the urban frontier'. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 45(3), 442-457

2020. 'Rooted flexibility: social reproduction, violence and gendered work in the city'. Gender, Place and Culture 28(1), 66-87.

2019. 'The village as urban infrastructure: social reproduction, agrarian repair and uneven urbanisation.' Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 28(1), 66-87

2018. 'The urban village, agrarian transformation and rentier capitalism in Gurgaon, India.' Antipode 50(5), 1244-1266.

2018. 'Subaltern counter-urbanism: Work, dispossession and emplacement in Gurgaon, India.' Geoforum 92, 162-180.

2014. 'Fragmented citizenships in Gurgaon.' Economic and Political Weekly, 47.

Blog, Video and Audio Work

2023. Subaltern frontiers. Presentation and discussion with Prof. Gautam Bhan. Publics@IIHS.

2023. 'Subaltern frontiers: agrarian city-making in Gurgaon'. Discussion with Garima Jaju, New Books Network.

2014. 'Women workers in the Gurgaon industrial belt fight back', OpenDemocracy.

2014. 'The Urban Paradox', OpenDemocracy.

2014 'Migrant workers struggle for visibility in Gurgaon', Global Urbanist.

Selected Publications

Externally Funded Research Projects

2023-2026: 'Digital enclosures: automating property in South Asia', British Academy/Wolfson Fellowship.

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