Living in the shade of others: intermediation, politics and violence in Dhaka city

  • David Jackman

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Bangladesh is often perceived as disordered, characterised by the absence of law abiding systems of governance, and with the poor left to rely on corrupt and dysfunctional relationships. This thesis tells a different story. Examining the lives of people living in the open and most basic slums ethnographically in Dhaka city reveals that people have complex dependencies on ‘intermediaries’ or ‘brokers’ to access resources. Rather than see these relationships as dysfunctional, the core argument developed is that they are inherently part of how social order is maintained in Bangladeshi society. If order is understood as contingent on actors throughout society establishing a dominant capability for violence and accruing resources on this basis, then intermediation can be seen as a prominent means by which both of these ends are achieved. These relationships are thus intertwined with how violence is organised and controlled. A young man who grew up at a bazar described how people need to live in the shade of others, and this metaphor is used to portray this phenomenon. This thesis argues that intermediation in Dhaka has changed significantly over the past decade, with the mastan gangs once identified as powerful in radical decline, replaced by wings of the ruling political party. At the lowest levels of urban society, a complex web of intermediaries exists, including labour leaders, political leaders, their followers and informers. Some people attempt to rise in this order by mobilising as factions and demonstrating their capability for violence, but more generally people employ tactics and strategies for avoiding, negotiating and even exiting these relationships. Negotiating these relationships and one’s place in this order is conceptualised here as the politics of intermediation.
Date of Award6 Sept 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SponsorsEconomic and Social Research Council
SupervisorJoe Devine (Supervisor) & Geof Wood (Supervisor)


  • Violence
  • Bangladesh
  • Intermediation
  • politics
  • labour
  • Urban

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