Environment & Urbanization

World leading environmental and urban studies journal

The Politics of Slums in the Global South: Urban informality in Brazil, India, South Africa and Peru

Véronique Dupont, David Jordhus-Lier, Catherine Sutherland, Einar Braathen




This book aims to understand the politics of slums, particularly how struggles for secure housing and improved living conditions in substandard Southern settlements reveal the power struggles and tensions of urbanization processes.

Focusing on six cities – Rio de Janeiro, Delhi, Chennai, Durban, Cape Town and Lima – and 11 case studies of informal settlements, many of which are impacted by large-scale infrastructure projects, the authors discuss processes of settlement formation, demolition, upgrading and resettlement. These analyses are embedded within globalized debates on the neoliberal city. Urban development is conceptually positioned along a diverse set of debates around topics including social (non-) movements, civil society, coping strategies, collective action, spaces of citizenship, the quiet encroachment of the ordinary, and insurgent urbanism.

Methodologically, the book pays particular attention to the interactions among residents, CSOs and the state, and looks at the actions in the case studies from a bottom-up perspective. The layout of the book uses boxes to provide interested readers with the details on the history, organizations, policies and processes of the particular case study processes.

Chapter 5, for example, debates the role and centrality of knowledge in social mobilization processes, and how open flows of knowledge and community-based knowledge are central to generate participatory public interventions that target housing for the poor. Here, the authors bring together an analysis based on their empirical data (such as the contestation of the Vía Parque Rimac mega project in Lima) with ongoing debates on the roles of local knowledge and appropriate communication.

Throughout the chapters, the capacity to build alliances and coalitions that include different types of actors and intervene at different levels, and the institutionalization of participatory practices without excessive bureaucracies, come across as defining factors of citizen action. Groups then often manage to upscale their initiative beyond the community level and overcome housing struggles that are frequently a result of their informal status and occupation of attractive urban land.

The authors close with a critique of the book’s title. They declare that one of their main insights was that (page 219):

”there is no singular concept that fully describes nature of these settlements: to describe the materiality of deprivation and the poor living conditions that characterise the settlements studied in this volume, “substandard” seemed like the most appropriate term. When describing their relationship to the state and their contested location on maps and in project plans, however, “informality” more precisely captures their status. Finally, the stigma and socio-cultural marginalisation that many of these residents experienced in addition to lacking material means and formal condition brought back the discourse on slums.”


Book note prepared by Julia Wesely

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