Challenging the Hard Reality: insights into the influence of representations on the materiality of a slum community in Dhaka, Bangladesh

Authors: Nishat Falgunee*, University of New South Wales
Topics: Cultural Geography
Keywords: diverse economies, community economies, slums, materialities, non-representational theory
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/14/2018
Start / End Time: 4:00 PM / 5:40 PM
Room: Studio 6, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper explores the limitations of dominant formulations of the problems of slum communities, arguing that such discourses falsely presume the ‘hard reality’ of misery and hardship. While not denying the adversity of slumlife, the paper suggests that we can better understand the character of slum existence by challenging the dichotomous and essentialist thinking of conventional frameworks. Focusing on the way that livelihoods in such communities relate to the sex/gender dichotomy, the paper seeks to investigate how the perception and representation of slum dwellers impacts upon the material reality of human lives. My study involves an ethnographic approach to data collection and analysis, combining interviews and observation. The preliminary findings of the research suggest that the existence of slum dwellers is indeed influenced by the way they are perceived. Nonetheless, individuals exhibit diverse responses to dominant narratives, with respect to the way that they perceive themselves and the way that they act in the face of often difficult circumstances. While some research participants actively conform to more conventional images of the slum dwellers as helpless entrenching their relationships with welfare organizations, others actively resist such constructions. The paper seeks to situate the analysis of such differences within the context of geographical literature on community economies and critiques of representation from non-representational theory. Building on these theoretical directions, it seeks to navigate the fine line between the structural positing of individuals within grids of power, on the one hand, and the treatment of individuals as entirely agentic, on the other.

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