Beyond the ‘slum’ trope: Understanding the ‘global’ city through varied marginal living practices

Authors: Paroj Banerjee*, London School of Economics
Topics: Urban Geography, Third World, Landscape
Keywords: Pavement dwellers, Street habitation, Spatial Regimes, Slum, Urban Marginality
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Napoleon, Marriott, River Tower Elevators, 41st Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The focus of urban poverty discourse in the global south has centred on slum-centric discussions to explain the “crisis” of Third World cities. Naturally, eradication of slums is symptomatic of erasure of urban poverty and regarded as a panacea to address all urban problems. This analysis falls short in addressing the fact the most extreme levels of poverty are not found in slums. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork with pavement dwellers in Mumbai, I argue that in order to understand the breath of marginal living practices in the city, attention needs to be extended to spaces ‘beyond slums’, spaces that embody a set of practices and negotiations within the city that are spatially distinct. These groups are often dispersed and numerically weak. It is this spatial (dis)organization that shapes their everyday politics in making their place within the city. The exposed nature of their habitation makes their everyday living transient and sets forth a form of spatiality that is distinct from dense neighbourhoods like the slums. While slums are being peripheralised through various policy and state interventions, these groups continue to hold on to the urban core. And it is this ‘holding on’ that pushes them towards further marginality through constant policing and formation of ‘spatial regimes’. I will therefore argue that understanding of these living spaces and spatial practices are crucial in making sense of not just the transformations ‘of’ the city, but also to theoretically reflect ‘on’ the newer forms of urbanisms that’s emerging out of the global south.

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