[permaculture] MIKE DAVIS PLANET OF SLUMS NEW BOOK plus article from New Left Review

Wesley Roe and Marjorie Lakin Erickson lakinroe at silcom.com
Wed Mar 15 09:52:48 EST 2006


MIKE DAVIS

Planet of Slums Mike Davis NEW BOOK

http://www.versobooks.com/books/cdef/d-titles/davis_m_planet_of_slums.shtml

A celebrated urban theorist raises the lid on the effects of a global 
explosion of disenfranchised slum-dwellers.
According to the united nations, more than one billion people now live in 
the slums of the cities of the South. In this brilliant and ambitious book, 
Mike Davis explores the future of a radically unequal and explosively 
unstable urban world.
 From the sprawling barricadas of Lima to the garbage hills of Manila, 
urbanization has been disconnected from industrialization, even economic 
growth. Davis portrays a vast humanity warehoused in shantytowns and exiled 
from the formal world economy. He argues that the rise of this informal 
urban proletariat is a wholly original development unforeseen by either 
classical Marxism or neo-liberal theory.

Are the great slums, as a terrified Victorian middle class once imagined, 
volcanoes waiting to erupt? Davis provides the first global overview of the 
diverse religious, ethnic, and political movements competing for the souls 
of the new urban poor. He surveys Hindu fundamentalism in Bombay, the 
Islamist resistance in Casablanca and Cairo, street gangs in Cape Town and 
San Salvador, Pentecostalism in Kinshasa and Rio de Janeiro, and 
revolutionary populism in Caracas and La Paz.
Planet of Slums ends with a provocative meditation on the “war on 
terrorism” as an incipient world war between the American empire and the 
slum poor.

“In this trenchantly argued book, Mike Davis quantifies the nightmarish 
mass production of slums that marks the contemporary city. With cool 
indignation, Davis argues that the exponential growth of slums is no 
accident but the result of a perfect storm of corrupt leadership, 
institutional failure, and IMF-imposed Structural Adjustment Programs 
leading to a massive transfer of wealth from poor to rich. Scourge of 
neo-liberal nostrums, Davis debunks the irresponsible myth of self-help 
salvation, showing exactly who gets the boot from ‘bootstrap capitalism.’ 
Like the work of Jacob Riis, Ida Tarbell, and Lincoln Steffans over a 
century ago, this searing indictment makes the shame of our cities urgently 
clear.” — Michael Sorkin

 From Planet of Slums
“What is clear is that the contemporary mega-slum poses unique problems of 
imperial order and social control that conventional geopolitics has barely 
begun to register. If the aim of the “war on terrorism” is to pursue the 
erstwhile enemy into his sociological and cultural labyrinth, then the poor 
peripheries of developing cities will be the permanent battlefields of the 
twenty-first century.
“Night after night, hornet-like helicopter gun-ships stalk enigmatic 
enemies in the narrow streets of the slum districts, pouring their hellfire 
into shanties or fleeing cars. Every morning the slums reply with suicide 
bombers and eloquent explosions. If the empire can deploy Orwellian 
technologies of repression, its outcasts surely have the gods of chaos on 
their side.




PLANET OF SLUMS

http://www.newleftreview.net/NLR26001.shtml#pagetop
Download a PDF version of this article

New Left Review 26, March-April 2004

Buy this issue: New Left Review 26, March-April 2004

Sometime in the next year, a woman will give birth in the Lagos slum of 
Ajegunle, a young man will flee his village in west Java for the bright 
lights of Jakarta, or a farmer will move his impoverished family into one 
of Lima’s innumerable pueblos jovenes. The exact event is unimportant and 
it will pass entirely unnoticed. Nonetheless it will constitute a watershed 
in human history. For the first time the urban population of the earth will 
outnumber the rural. Indeed, given the imprecisions of Third World 
censuses, this epochal transition may already have occurred.

The earth has urbanized even faster than originally predicted by the Club 
of Rome in its notoriously Malthusian 1972 report, Limits of Growth. In 
1950 there were 86 cities in the world with a population over one million; 
today there are 400, and by 2015, there will be at least 550. [1] Cities, 
indeed, have absorbed nearly two-thirds of the global population explosion 
since 1950 and are currently growing by a million babies and migrants each 
week. [2] The present urban population (3.2 billion) is larger than the 
total population of the world in 1960. The global countryside, meanwhile, 
has reached its maximum population (3.2 billion) and will begin to shrink 
after 2020. As a result, cities will account for all future world 
population growth, which is expected to peak at about 10 billion in 2050. [3]

1. THE URBAN CLIMACTERIC

Where are the heroes, the colonisers, the victims of the Metropolis?
Brecht, Diary entry, 1921


Ninety-five per cent of this final buildout of humanity will occur in the 
urban areas of developing countries, whose population will double to nearly 
4 billion over the next generation. [4] (Indeed, the combined urban 
population of China, India and Brazil already roughly equals that of Europe 
plus North America.) The most celebrated result will be the burgeoning of 
new megacities with populations in excess of 8 million, and, even more 
spectacularly, hypercities with more than 20 million inhabitants (the 
estimated urban population of the world at the time of the French 
Revolution). [5] In 1995 only Tokyo had incontestably reached that 
threshold. By 2025, according to the Far Eastern EconomicReview, Asia alone 
could have ten or eleven conurbations that large, including Jakarta (24.9 
million), Dhaka (25 million) and Karachi (26.5 million). Shanghai, whose 
growth was frozen for decades by Maoist policies of deliberate 
under-urbanization, could have as many as 27 million residents in its huge 
estuarial metro-region. [6] Mumbai (Bombay) meanwhile is projected to 
attain a population of 33 million, although no one knows whether such 
gigantic concentrations of poverty are biologically or ecologically 
sustainable. [7]

But if megacities are the brightest stars in the urban firmament, 
three-quarters of the burden of population growth will be borne by faintly 
visible second-tier cities and smaller urban areas: places where, as un 
researchers emphasize, ‘there is little or no planning to accommodate these 
people or provide them with services.’ [8] In China (officially 43 per cent 
urban in 1997), the number of official cities has soared from 193 to 640 
since 1978. But the great metropolises, despite extraordinary growth, have 
actually declined in relative share of urban population. It is, rather, the 
small cities and recently ‘citized’ towns that have absorbed the majority 
of the rural labour-power made redundant by post-1979 market reforms. [9] 
In Africa, likewise, the supernova-like growth of a few giant cities like 
Lagos (from 300,000 in 1950 to 10 million today) has been matched by the 
transformation of several dozen small towns and oases like Ouagadougou, 
Nouakchott, Douala, Antananarivo and Bamako into cities larger than San 
Francisco or Manchester. In Latin America, where primary cities long 
monopolized growth, secondary cities like Tijuana, Curitiba, Temuco, 
Salvador and Belém are now booming, ‘with the fastest growth of all 
occurring in cities with between 100,000 and 500,000 inhabitants.’ [10]

Moreover, as Gregory Guldin has urged, urbanization must be conceptualized 
as structural transformation along, and intensified interaction between, 
every point of an urban­rural continuum. In his case-study of southern 
China, the countryside is urbanizing in situ as well as generating epochal 
migrations. ‘Villages become more like market and xiang towns, and county 
towns and small cities become more like large cities.’ The result in China 
and much of Southeast Asia is a hermaphroditic landscape, a partially 
urbanized countryside that Guldin and others argue may be ‘a significant 
new path of human settlement and development . . . a form neither rural nor 
urban but a blending of the two wherein a dense web of transactions ties 
large urban cores to their surrounding regions.’ [11] In Indonesia, where a 
similar process of rural/urban hybridization is far advanced in Jabotabek 
(the greater Jakarta region), researchers call these novel land-use 
patterns desokotas and debate whether they are transitional landscapes or a 
dramatic new species of urbanism. [12]

Urbanists also speculate about the processes weaving together Third World 
cities into extraordinary new networks, corridors and hierarchies. For 
example, the Pearl River (Hong Kong­Guangzhou) and the Yangtze River 
(Shanghai) deltas, along with the Beijing­Tianjin corridor, are rapidly 
developing into urban-industrial megalopolises comparable to Tokyo­Osaka, 
the lower Rhine, or New York­Philadelphia. But this may only be the first 
stage in the emergence of an even larger structure: ‘a continuous urban 
corridor stretching from Japan/North Korea to West Java.’ [13] Shanghai, 
almost certainly, will then join Tokyo, New York and London as one of the 
‘world cities’ controlling the global web of capital and information flows. 
The price of this new urban order will be increasing inequality within and 
between cities of different sizes and specializations. Guldin, for example, 
cites intriguing Chinese discussions over whether the ancient 
income-and-development chasm between city and countryside is now being 
replaced by an equally fundamental gap between small cities and the coastal 
giants. [14]

2. BACK TO DICKENS

I saw innumerable hosts, foredoomed to darkness, dirt, pestilence, 
obscenity, misery and early death.
Dickens, ‘A December Vision’, 1850


The dynamics of Third World urbanization both recapitulate and confound the 
precedents of nineteenth and early twentieth-century Europe and North 
America. In China the greatest industrial revolution in history is the 
Archimedean lever shifting a population the size of Europe’s from rural 
villages to smog-choked sky-climbing cities. As a result, ‘China [will] 
cease to be the predominantly rural country it has been for millennia.’ 
[15] Indeed, the great oculus of the Shanghai World Financial Centre may 
soon look out upon a vast urban world little imagined by Mao or, for that 
matter, Le Corbusier. But in most of the developing world, city growth 
lacks China’s powerful manufacturing-export engine as well as its vast 
inflow of foreign capital (currently equal to half of total foreign 
investment in the developing world).

Urbanization elsewhere, as a result, has been radically decoupled from 
industrialization, even from development perse. Some would argue that this 
is an expression of an inexorable trend: the inherent tendency of silicon 
capitalism to delink the growth of production from that of employment. But 
in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and parts of Asia, 
urbanization-without-growth is more obviously the legacy of a global 
political conjuncture—the debt crisis of the late 1970s and subsequent 
imf-led restructuring of Third World economies in the 1980s—than an iron 
law of advancing technology. Third World urbanization, moreover, continued 
its breakneck pace (3.8 per cent per annum from 1960­93) through the locust 
years of the 1980s and early 1990s in spite of falling real wages, soaring 
prices and skyrocketing urban unemployment. [16]

This ‘perverse’ urban boom contradicted orthodox economic models which 
predicted that the negative feedback of urban recession should slow or even 
reverse migration from the countryside. The African case was particularly 
paradoxical. How could cities in Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Gabon and 
elsewhere—whose economies were contracting by 2 to 5 per cent per 
year—still sustain population growth of 5 to 8 per cent per annum? [17] 
Part of the secret, of course, was that imf- (and now wto-) enforced 
policies of agricultural deregulation and ‘de-peasantization’ were 
accelerating the exodus of surplus rural labour to urban slums even as 
cities ceased to be job machines. Urban population growth in spite of 
stagnant or negative urban economic growth is the extreme face of what some 
researchers have labelled ‘over-urbanization’. [18] It is just one of the 
several unexpected tracks down which a neoliberal world order has shunted 
millennial urbanization.

Classical social theory from Marx to Weber, of course, believed that the 
great cities of the future would follow in the industrializing footsteps of 
Manchester, Berlin and Chicago. Indeed, Los Angeles, São Paulo, Pusan and, 
today, Ciudad Juárez, Bangalore and Guangzhou, have roughly approximated 
this classical trajectory. But most cities of the South are more like 
Victorian Dublin which, as Emmet Larkin has emphasized, was unique amongst 
‘all the slumdoms produced in the western world in the nineteenth century . 
. . [because] its slums were not a product of the industrial revolution. 
Dublin, in fact, suffered more from the problems of de-industrialization 
than industrialization between 1800 and 1850.’ [19]

Likewise Kinshasa, Khartoum, Dar es Salaam, Dhaka and Lima grow 
prodigiously despite ruined import-substitution industries, shrunken public 
sectors and downwardly mobile middle classes. The global forces ‘pushing’ 
people from the countryside—mechanization in Java and India, food imports 
in Mexico, Haiti and Kenya, civil war and drought throughout Africa, and 
everywhere the consolidation of small into large holdings and the 
competition of industrial-scale agribusiness—seem to sustain urbanization 
even when the ‘pull’ of the city is drastically weakened by debt and 
depression. [20] At the same time, rapid urban growth in the context of 
structural adjustment, currency devaluation and state retrenchment has been 
an inevitable recipe for the mass production of slums. [21] Much of the 
urban world, as a result, is rushing backwards to the age of Dickens.

The astonishing prevalence of slums is the chief theme of the historic and 
sombre report published last October by the United Nations’ Human 
Settlements Programme (un-Habitat). [22] The Challenge of the Slums 
(henceforth: Slums) is the first truly global audit of urban poverty. It 
adroitly integrates diverse urban case-studies from Abidjan to Sydney with 
global household data that for the first time includes China and the 
ex-Soviet Bloc. (The un authors acknowledge a particular debt to Branko 
Milanovic, the World Bank economist who has pioneered the use of 
micro-surveys as a powerful lens to study growing global inequality. In one 
of his papers, Milanovic explains: ‘for the first time in human history, 
researchers have reasonably accurate data on the distribution of income or 
welfare [expenditures or consumption] amongst more than 90 per cent of the 
world population.’) [23]

Slums is also unusual in its intellectual honesty. One of the researchers 
associated with the report told me that ‘the “Washington Consensus” types 
(World Bank, imf, etc.) have always insisted on defining the problem of 
global slums not as a result of globalization and inequality but rather as 
a result of “bad governance”.’ The new report, however, breaks with 
traditional un circumspection and self-censorship to squarely indict 
neoliberalism, especially the imf’s structural adjustment programmes. [24] 
‘The primary direction of both national and international interventions 
during the last twenty years has actually increased urban poverty and 
slums, increased exclusion and inequality, and weakened urban elites in 
their efforts to use cities as engines of growth.’ [25]

Slums, to be sure, neglects (or saves for later un-Habitat reports) some of 
the most important land-use issues arising from super-urbanization and 
informal settlement, including sprawl, environmental degradation, and urban 
hazards. It also fails to shed much light on the processes expelling labour 
from the countryside or to incorporate a large and rapidly growing 
literature on the gender dimensions of urban poverty and informal 
employment. But these cavils aside, Slums remains an invaluable exposé that 
amplifies urgent research findings with the institutional authority of the 
United Nations. If the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate 
Change represent an unprecedented scientific consensus on the dangers of 
global warming, then Slums sounds an equally authoritative warning about 
the global catastrophe of urban poverty. (A third report someday may 
explore the ominous terrain of their interaction.) [26] And, for the 
purposes of this review, it provides an excellent framework for 
reconnoitering contemporary debates on urbanization, the informal economy, 
human solidarity and historical agency.

3. THE URBANIZATION OF POVERTY

The mountain of trash seemed to stretch very far, then gradually without 
perceptible demarcation or boundary it became something else. But what? A 
jumbled and pathless collection of structures. Cardboard cartons, plywood 
and rotting boards, the rusting and glassless shells of cars, had been 
thrown together to form habitation.
Michael Thelwell, The Harder They Come, 1980


The first published definition of ‘slum’ reportedly occurs in Vaux’s 1812 
Vocabulary ofthe Flash Language, where it is synonymous with ‘racket’ or 
‘criminal trade’. [27] By the cholera years of the 1830s and 1840s, 
however, the poor were living in slums rather than practising them. A 
generation later, slums had been identified in America and India, and were 
generally recognized as an international phenomenon. The ‘classic slum’ was 
a notoriously parochial and picturesquely local place, but reformers 
generally agreed with Charles Booth that all slums were characterized by an 
amalgam of dilapidated housing, overcrowding, poverty and vice. For 
nineteenth-century Liberals, of course, the moral dimension was decisive 
and the slum was first and above all envisioned as a place where a social 
‘residuum’ rots in immoral and often riotous splendour. Slums’ authors 
discard Victorian calumnies, but otherwise preserve the classical 
definition: overcrowding, poor or informal housing, inadequate access to 
safe water and sanitation, and insecurity of tenure. [28]

This multi-dimensional definition is actually a very conservative gauge of 
what qualifies as a slum: many readers will be surprised by the un’s 
counter-experiential finding that only 19.6 per cent of urban Mexicans live 
in slums. Yet, even with this restrictive definition, Slums estimates that 
there were at least 921 million slum-dwellers in 2001: nearly equal to the 
population of the world when the young Engels first ventured onto the mean 
streets of Manchester. Indeed, neoliberal capitalism has multiplied 
Dickens’s notorious slum of Tom-All-Alone in Bleak House by exponential 
powers. Residents of slums constitute a staggering 78.2 per cent of the 
urban population of the least developed countries and fully a third of the 
global urban population. [29] Extrapolating from the age structures of most 
Third World cities, at least half of the slum population is under the age 
of 20. [30]

The world’s highest percentages of slum-dwellers are in Ethiopia (an 
astonishing 99.4 per cent of the urban population), Chad (also 99.4 per 
cent), Afghanistan (98.5 percent) and Nepal (92 per cent). [31] The poorest 
urban populations, however, are probably in Maputo and Kinshasa where 
(according to other sources) two-thirds of residents earn less than the 
cost of their minimum required daily nutrition. [32] In Delhi, planners 
complain bitterly about ‘slums within slums’ as squatters take over the 
small open spaces of the peripheral resettlement colonies into which the 
old urban poor were brutally removed in the mid-1970s. [33] In Cairo and 
Phnom Penh, recent urban arrivals squat or rent space on rooftops: creating 
slum cities in the air.

Slum populations are often deliberately and sometimes massively 
undercounted. In the late 1980s, for example, Bangkok had an ‘official’ 
poverty rate of only 5 per cent, yet surveys found nearly a quarter of the 
population (1.16 million) living in slums and squatter camps. [34] The un, 
likewise, recently discovered that it was unintentionally undercounting 
urban poverty in Africa by large margins. Slum-dwellers in Angola, for 
example, are probably twice as numerous as it originally believed. Likewise 
it underestimated the number of poor urbanites in Liberia: not surprising, 
since Monrovia tripled its population in a single year (1989­90) as 
panic-stricken country people fled from a brutal civil war. [35]

There may be more than quarter of a million slums on earth. The five great 
metropolises of South Asia (Karachi, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Dhaka) 
alone contain about 15,000 distinct slum communities with a total 
population of more than 20 million. An even larger slum population crowds 
the urbanizing littoral of West Africa, while other huge conurbations of 
poverty sprawl across Anatolia and the Ethiopian highlands; hug the base of 
the Andes and the Himalayas; explode outward from the skyscraper cores of 
Mexico, Jo-burg, Manila and São Paulo; and, of course, line the banks of 
the rivers Amazon, Niger, Congo, Nile, Tigris, Ganges, Irrawaddy and 
Mekong. The building blocks of this slum planet, paradoxically, are both 
utterly interchangeable and spontaneously unique: including the bustees of 
Kolkata, the chawls and zopadpattis of Mumbai, the katchi abadis of 
Karachi, the kampungs of Jakarta, the iskwaters of Manila, the shammasas of 
Khartoum, the umjondolos of Durban, the intra-murios of Rabat, the 
bidonvilles of Abidjan, the baladis of Cairo, the gecekondus of Ankara, the 
conventillos of Quito, the favelas of Brazil, the villas miseria of Buenos 
Aires and the colonias populares of Mexico City. They are the gritty 
antipodes to the generic fantasy-scapes and residential themeparks—Philip 
K. Dick’s bourgeois ‘Offworlds’—in which the global middle classes 
increasingly prefer to cloister themselves.

Whereas the classic slum was a decaying inner city, the new slums are more 
typically located on the edge of urban spatial explosions. The horizontal 
growth of cities like Mexico, Lagos or Jakarta, of course, has been 
extraordinary, and ‘slum sprawl’ is as much of a problem in the developing 
world as suburban sprawl in the rich countries. The developed area of 
Lagos, for instance, doubled in a single decade, between 1985 and 1994. 
[36] The Governor of Lagos State told reporters last year that ‘about two 
thirds of the state’s total land mass of 3,577 square kilometres could be 
classified as shanties or slums’. [37] Indeed, writes a un correspondent,

much of the city is a mystery . . . unlit highways run past canyons of 
smouldering garbage before giving way to dirt streets weaving through 200 
slums, their sewers running with raw waste . . . No one even knows for sure 
the size of the population—officially it is 6 million, but most experts 
estimate it at 10 million—let alone the number of murders each year [or] 
the rate of hiv infection. [38]

Lagos, moreover, is simply the biggest node in the shanty-town corridor of 
70 million people that stretches from Abidjan to Ibadan: probably the 
biggest continuous footprint of urban poverty on earth. [39]

Slum ecology, of course, revolves around the supply of settlement space. 
Winter King, in a recent study published in the Harvard Law Review, claims 
that 85 per cent of the urban residents of the developing world ‘occupy 
property illegally’. [40] Indeterminacy of land titles and/or lax state 
ownership, in the last instance, are the cracks through which a vast 
humanity has poured into the cities. The modes of slum settlement vary 
across a huge spectrum, from highly disciplined land invasions in Mexico 
City and Lima to intricately organized (but often illegal) rental markets 
on the outskirts of Beijing, Karachi and Nairobi. Even in cities like 
Karachi, where the urban periphery is formally owned by the government, 
‘vast profits from land speculation . . . continue to accrue to the private 
sector at the expense of low-income households’. [41] Indeed national and 
local political machines usually acquiesce in informal settlement (and 
illegal private speculation) as long as they can control the political 
complexion of the slums and extract a regular flow of bribes or rents. 
Without formal land titles or home ownership, slum-dwellers are forced into 
quasi-feudal dependencies upon local officials and party bigshots. 
Disloyalty can mean eviction or even the razing of an entire district.

The provision of lifeline infrastructures, meanwhile, lags far behind the 
pace of urbanization, and peri-urban slum areas often have no formal 
utilities or sanitation provision whatsoever. [42] Poor areas of Latin 
American cities in general have better utilities than South Asia which, in 
turn, usually have minimum urban services, like water and electricity, that 
many African slums lack. As in early Victorian London, the contamination of 
water by human and animal waste remains the cause of the chronic diarrhoeal 
diseases that kill at least two million urban babies and small children 
each year. [43] An estimated 57 per cent of urban Africans lack access to 
basic sanitation and in cities like Nairobi the poor must rely on ‘flying 
toilets’ (defecation into a plastic bag). [44] In Mumbai, meanwhile, the 
sanitation problem is defined by ratios of one toilet seat per 500 
inhabitants in the poorer districts. Only 11 per cent of poor 
neighbourhoods in Manila and 18 per cent in Dhaka have formal means to 
dispose of sewage. [45] Quite apart from the incidence of the hiv/aids 
plague, the un considers that two out of five African slum-dwellers live in 
a poverty that is literally ‘life-threatening’. [46]

The urban poor, meanwhile, are everywhere forced to settle on hazardous and 
otherwise unbuildable terrains—over-steep hillslopes, river banks and 
floodplains. Likewise they squat in the deadly shadows of refineries, 
chemical factories, toxic dumps, or in the margins of railroads and 
highways. Poverty, as a result, has ‘constructed’ an urban disaster problem 
of unprecedented frequency and scope, as typified by chronic flooding in 
Manila, Dhaka and Rio, pipeline conflagrations in Mexico City and Cubatão 
(Brazil), the Bhopal catastrophe in India, a munitions plant explosion in 
Lagos, and deadly mudslides in Caracas, La Paz and Tegucigalpa. [47] The 
disenfranchised communities of the urban poor, in addition, are vulnerable 
to sudden outbursts of state violence like the infamous 1990 bulldozing of 
the Maroko beach slum in Lagos (‘an eyesore for the neighbouring community 
of Victoria Island, a fortress for the rich’) or the 1995 demolition in 
freezing weather of the huge squatter town of Zhejiangcun on the edge of 
Beijing. [48]

But slums, however deadly and insecure, have a brilliant future. The 
countryside will for a short period still contain the majority of the 
world’s poor, but that doubtful title will pass to urban slums by 2035. 
[49] At least half of the coming Third World urban population explosion 
will be credited to the account of informal communities. Two billion slum 
dwellers by 2030 or 2040 is a monstrous, almost incomprehensible prospect, 
but urban poverty overlaps and exceeds the slums perse. Indeed, Slums 
underlines that in some cities the majority of the poor actually live 
outside the slum strictosensu. [50] un ‘Urban Observatory’ researchers 
warn, moreover, that by 2020 ‘urban poverty in the world could reach 45 to 
50 per cent of the total population living in cities’. [51]

4. URBAN POVERTY’S ‘BIG BANG’

After their mysterious laughter, they quickly changed the topic to other 
things. How were people back home surviving sap?
Fidelis Balogun, Adjusted Lives, 1995


The evolution of the new urban poverty has been a non-linear historical 
process. The slow accretion of shanty towns to the shell of the city is 
punctuated by storms of poverty and sudden explosions of slum-building. In 
his collection of stories, Adjusted Lives, the Nigerian writer Fidelis 
Balogun describes the coming of the imf-mandated Structural Adjustment 
Programme (sap) in the mid-1980s as the equivalent of a great natural 
catastrophe, destroying forever the old soul of Lagos and ‘re-enslaving’ 
urban Nigerians.

The weird logic of this economic programme seemed to be that to restore 
life to the dying economy, every juice had first to be sapped out of the 
underprivileged majority of the citizens. The middle class rapidly 
disappeared, and the garbage heaps of the increasingly rich few became the 
food table of the multiplied population of abjectly poor. The brain drain 
to the oil-rich Arab countries and to the Western world became a flood. [52]

Balogun’s complaint about ‘privatizing in full steam and getting more 
hungry by the day’, or his enumeration of sap’s malevolent consequences, 
would be instantly familiar to survivors, not only of the other 30 African 
saps, but also to hundreds of millions of Asians and Latin Americans. The 
1980s, when the imf and World Bank used the leverage of debt to restructure 
the economies of most of the Third World, are the years when slums became 
an implacable future, not just for poor rural migrants, but also for 
millions of traditional urbanites, displaced or immiserated by the violence 
of ‘adjustment’.

As Slums emphasizes, saps were ‘deliberately anti-urban in nature’ and 
designed to reverse any ‘urban bias’ that previously existed in welfare 
policies, fiscal structure or government investment. [53] Everywhere the 
imf—acting as bailiff for the big banks and backed by the Reagan and Bush 
administrations—offered poor countries the same poisoned chalice of 
devaluation, privatization, removal of import controls and food subsidies, 
enforced cost-recovery in health and education, and ruthless downsizing of 
the public sector. (An infamous 1985 telegram from Treasury Secretary 
George Shultz to overseas usaid officials commanded: ‘in most cases, public 
sector firms should be privatized’.) [54] At the same time, saps devastated 
rural smallholders by eliminating subsidies and pushing them out, ‘sink or 
swim’, into global commodity markets dominated by First World agribusiness. 
[55]

As Ha-Joon Chang points out, saps hypocritically ‘kicked away the ladder’ 
(i.e., protectionist tariffs and subsidies) that the oecd nations 
historically employed in their own climb from agriculture to urban 
high-value goods and services. [56] Slums makes the same point when it 
argues that the ‘main single cause of increases in poverty and inequality 
during the 1980s and 1990s was the retreat of the state’. In addition to 
the direct sap-enforced reductions in public-sector spending and ownership, 
the un authors stress the more subtle diminution of state capacity that has 
resulted from ‘subsidiarity’: the devolution of powers to lower echelons of 
government and, especially, ngos, linked directly to major international 
aid agencies.

The whole, apparently decentralized structure is foreign to the notion of 
national representative government that has served the developed world 
well, while it is very amenable to the operations of a global hegemony. The 
dominant international perspective [i.e., Washington’s] becomes the de 
facto paradigm for development, so that the whole world rapidly becomes 
unified in the broad direction of what is supported by donors and 
international organizations. [57]

Urban Africa and Latin America were the hardest hit by the artificial 
depression engineered by the imf and the White House. Indeed, in many 
countries, the economic impact of saps during the 1980s, in tandem with 
protracted drought, rising oil prices, soaring interest rates and falling 
commodity prices, was more severe and long-lasting than the Great Depression.

The balance-sheet of structural adjustment in Africa, reviewed by Carole 
Rakodi, includes capital flight, collapse of manufactures, marginal or 
negative increase in export incomes, drastic cutbacks in urban public 
services, soaring prices and a steep decline in real wages. [58] In 
Kinshasa (‘an aberration or rather a sign of things to come?’) 
assainissement wiped out the civil servant middle class and produced an 
‘unbelieveable decline in real wages’ that, in turn, sponsored a 
nightmarish rise in crime and predatory gangs. [59] In Dar es Salaam, 
public service expenditure per person fell 10 per cent per year during the 
1980s: a virtual demolition of the local state. [60] In Khartoum, 
liberalization and structural adjustment, according to local researchers, 
manufactured 1.1 million ‘new poor’: ‘mostly drawn from the salaried groups 
or public sector employees’. [61] In Abidjan, one of the few tropical 
African cities with an important manufacturing sector and modern urban 
services, submission to the sap regime punctually led to 
deindustrialization, the collapse of construction, and a rapid 
deterioration in public transit and sanitation. [62] In Balogun’s Nigeria 
extreme poverty, increasingly urbanized in Lagos, Ibadan and other cities, 
metastatized from 28 per cent in 1980 to 66 per cent in 1996. ‘gnp per 
capita, at about $260 today,’ the World Bank reports, ‘is below the level 
at independence 40 years ago and below the $370 level attained in 1985.’ [63]

In Latin America, saps (often implemented by military dictatorships) 
destabilized rural economies while savaging urban employment and housing. 
In 1970, Guevarist ‘foco’ theories of rural insurgency still conformed to a 
continental reality where the poverty of the countryside (75 million poor) 
overshadowed that of the cities (44 million poor). By the end of the 1980s, 
however, the vast majority of the poor (115 million in 1990) were living in 
urban colonias and villas miseria rather than farms or villages (80 
million). [64]

Urban inequality, meanwhile, exploded. In Santiago, the Pinochet 
dictatorship bulldozed shanty towns and evicted formerly radical squatters: 
forcing poor families to become allegados, doubled or even tripled-up in 
the same rented dwelling. In Buenos Aires, the richest decile’s share of 
income increased from 10 times that of the poorest in 1984 to 23 times in 
1989. [65] In Lima, where the value of the minimum wage fell by 83 per cent 
during the imf recession, the percentage of households living below the 
poverty threshold increased from 17 percent in 1985 to 44 per cent in 1990. 
[66] In Rio de Janeiro, inequality as measured in classical Gini 
coefficients soared from 0.58 in 1981 to 0.67 in 1989. [67] Indeed, 
throughout Latin America, the 1980s deepened the canyons and elevated the 
peaks of the world’s most extreme social topography. (According to a 2003 
World Bank report, Gini coefficients are 10 points higher in Latin America 
than Asia; 17.5 points higher than the oecd, and 20.4 points higher than 
Eastern Europe.) [68]

Throughout the Third World, the economic shocks of the 1980s forced 
individuals to regroup around the pooled resources of households and, 
especially, the survival skills and desperate ingenuity of women. In China 
and the industrializing cities of Southeast Asia, millions of young women 
indentured themselves to assembly lines and factory squalor. In Africa and 
most of Latin America (Mexico’s northern border cities excepted), this 
option did not exist. Instead, deindustrialization and the decimation of 
male formal-sector jobs compelled women to improvise new livelihoods as 
piece workers, liquor sellers, street vendors, cleaners, washers, 
ragpickers, nannies and prostitutes. In Latin America, where urban women’s 
labour-force participation had always been lower than in other continents, 
the surge of women into tertiary informal activities during the 1980s was 
especially dramatic. [69] In Africa, where the icons of the informal sector 
are women running shebeens or hawking produce, Christian Rogerson reminds 
us that most informal women are not actually self-employed or economically 
independent, but work for someone else. [70] (These ubiquitous and vicious 
networks of micro-exploitation, of the poor exploiting the very poor, are 
usually glossed over in accounts of the informal sector.)

Urban poverty was also massively feminized in the ex-Comecon countries 
after capitalist ‘liberation’ in 1989. In the early 1990s extreme poverty 
in the former ‘transitional countries’ (as the un calls them) soared from 
14 million to 168 million: a mass pauperization almost without precedent in 
history. [71] If, on a global balance-sheet, this economic catastrophe was 
partially offset by the much-praised success of China in raising incomes in 
its coastal cities, China’s market ‘miracle’ was purchased by ‘an enormous 
increase in wage inequality among urban workers . . . during the period 
1988 to 1999.’ Women and minorities were especially disadvantaged. [72]

In theory, of course, the 1990s should have righted the wrongs of the 1980s 
and allowed Third World cities to regain lost ground and bridge the chasms 
of inequality created by saps. The pain of adjustment should have been 
followed by the analgesic of globalization. Indeed the 1990s, as Slums 
wryly notes, were the first decade in which global urban development took 
place within almost utopian parameters of neo-classical market freedom.

During the 1990s, trade continued to expand at an almost unprecedented 
rate, no-go areas opened up and military expenditures decreased. . . . All 
the basic inputs to production became cheaper, as interest rates fell 
rapidly along with the price of basic commodities. Capital flows were 
increasingly unfettered by national controls and could move rapidly to the 
most productive areas. Under what were almost perfect economic conditions 
according to the dominant neoliberal economic doctrine, one might have 
imagined that the decade would have been one of unrivalled prosperity and 
social justice. [73]

In the event, however, urban poverty continued its relentless accumulation 
and ‘the gap between poor and rich countries increased, just as it had done 
for the previous 20 years and, in most countries, income inequality 
increased or, at best, stabilized.’ Global inequality, as measured by World 
Bank economists, reached an incredible Gini coefficient level of 0.67 by 
the end of the century. This was mathematically equivalent to a situation 
where the poorest two-thirds of the world receive zero income; and the top 
third, everything. [74]

5. A SURPLUS HUMANITY?

We shove our way about next to City, holding on to it by its thousand 
survival cracks . . .
Patrick Chamoiseau, Texaco (1997)


The brutal tectonics of neoliberal globalization since 1978 are analogous 
to the catastrophic processes that shaped a ‘third world’ in the first 
place, during the era of late Victorian imperialism (1870­1900). In the 
latter case, the forcible incorporation into the world market of the great 
subsistence peasantries of Asia and Africa entailed the famine deaths of 
millions and the uprooting of tens of millions more from traditional 
tenures. The end result, in Latin America as well, was rural 
‘semi-proletarianization’: the creation of a huge global class of 
immiserated semi-peasants and farm labourers lacking existential security 
of subsistence. [75] (As a result, the twentieth century became an age, not 
of urban revolutions as classical Marxism had imagined, but of epochal 
rural uprisings and peasant-based wars of national liberation.) Structural 
adjustment, it would appear, has recently worked an equally fundamental 
reshaping of human futures. As the authors of Slums conclude: ‘instead of 
being a focus for growth and prosperity, the cities have become a dumping 
ground for a surplus population working in unskilled, unprotected and 
low-wage informal service industries and trade.’ ‘The rise of [this] 
informal sector,’ they declare bluntly, ‘is . . . a direct result of 
liberalization.’ [76]

Indeed, the global informal working class (overlapping but non-identical 
with the slum population) is almost one billion strong: making it the 
fastest growing, and most unprecedented, social class on earth. Since 
anthropologist Keith Hart, working in Accra, first broached the concept of 
an ‘informal sector’ in 1973, a huge literature (mostly failing to 
distinguish micro-accumulation from sub-subsistence) has wrestled with the 
formidable theoretical and empirical problems involved in studying the 
survival strategies of the urban poor. [77] There is a base consensus, 
however, that the 1980s’ crisis inverted the relative structural positions 
of the formal and informal sectors: promoting informal survivalism as the 
new primary mode of livelihood in a majority of Third World cities.

Alejandro Portes and Kelly Hoffman have recently evaluated the overall 
impact of saps and liberalization upon Latin American urban class 
structures since the 1970s. Congruent with un conclusions, they find that 
both state employees and the formal proletariat have declined in every 
country of the region since the 1970s. In contrast, the informal sector of 
the economy, along with general social inequality, has dramatically 
expanded. Unlike some researchers, they make a crucial distinction between 
an informal petty bourgeoisie (‘the sum of owners of microenterprises, 
employing less than five workers, plus own-account professionals and 
technicians’) and the informal proletariat (‘the sum of own-account workers 
minus professionals and technicians, domestic servants, and paid and unpaid 
workers in microenterprises’). They demonstrate that this former stratum, 
the ‘microentrepreneurs’ so beloved in North American business schools, are 
often displaced public-sector professionals or laid-off skilled workers. 
Since the 1980s, they have grown from about 5 to 10 per cent of the 
economically active urban population: a trend reflecting ‘the forced 
entrepreneurialism foisted on former salaried employees by the decline of 
formal sector employment.’ [78]

Overall, according to Slums, informal workers are about two-fifths of the 
economically active population of the developing world. [79] According to 
researchers at the Inter-American Development Bank, the informal economy 
currently employs 57 per cent of the Latin American workforce and supplies 
four out of five new ‘jobs’. [80] Other sources claim that more than half 
of urban Indonesians and 65 per cent of residents of Dhaka subsist in the 
informal sector. [81] Slums likewise cites research finding that informal 
economic activity accounts for 33 to 40 per cent of urban employment in 
Asia, 60 to 75 per cent in Central America and 60 per cent in Africa. [82] 
Indeed, in sub-Saharan cities ‘formal job’ creation has virtually ceased to 
exist. An ilo study of Zimbabwe’s urban labour markets under 
‘stagflationary’ structural adjustment in the early 1990s found that the 
formal sector was creating only 10,000 jobs per year in face of an urban 
workforce increasing by more than 300,000 per annum. [83] Slums similarly 
estimates that fully 90 per cent of urban Africa’s new jobs over the next 
decade will somehow come from the informal sector. [84]

The pundits of bootstrap capitalism, like the irrepressible Hernando de 
Soto, may see this enormous population of marginalized labourers, redundant 
civil servants and ex-peasants as actually a frenzied beehive of ambitious 
entrepreneurs yearning for formal property rights and unregulated 
competitive space, but it makes more obvious sense to consider most 
informal workers as the ‘active’ unemployed, who have no choice but to 
subsist by some means or starve. [85] The world’s estimated 100 million 
street kids are not likely—apologies to Señor de Soto—to start issuing ipos 
or selling chewing-gum futures. [86] Nor will most of China’s 70 million 
‘floating workers’, living furtively on the urban periphery, eventually 
capitalize themselves as small subcontractors or integrate into the formal 
urban working class. And the informal working class—everywhere subject to 
micro- and macro-exploitation—is almost universally deprived of protection 
by labour laws and standards.

Moreover, as Alain Dubresson argues in the case of Abidjan, ‘the dynamism 
of crafts and small-scale trade depends largely on demand from the wage 
sector’. He warns against the ‘illusion’ cultivated by the ilo and World 
Bank that ‘the informal sector can efficiently replace the formal sector 
and promote an accumulation process sufficient for a city with more than 
2.5 million inhabitants’. [87] His warning is echoed by Christian Rogerson 
who, distinguishing (à la Portes and Hoffman) ‘survivalist’ from ‘growth’ 
micro-enterprises, writes of the former: ‘generally speaking, the incomes 
generated from these enterprises, the majority of which tend to be run by 
women, usually fall short of even a minimum living standard and involve 
little capital investment, virtually no skills training, and only 
constrained opportunities for expansion into a viable business’. With even 
formal-sector urban wages in Africa so low that economists can’t figure out 
how workers survive (the so-called ‘wage puzzle’), the informal tertiary 
sector has become an arena of extreme Darwinian competition amongst the 
poor. Rogerson cites the examples of Zimbabwe and South Africa where 
female-controlled informal niches like shebeens and spazas are now 
drastically overcrowded and plagued by collapsing profitability. [88]

The real macroeconomic trend of informal labour, in other words, is the 
reproduction of absolute poverty. But if the informal proletariat is not 
the pettiest of petty bourgeoisies, neither is it a ‘labour reserve army’ 
or a ‘lumpen proletariat’ in any obsolete nineteenth-century sense. Part of 
it, to be sure, is a stealth workforce for the formal economy and numerous 
studies have exposed how the subcontracting networks of WalMart and other 
mega-companies extend deep into the misery of the colonias and chawls. But 
at the end of the day, a majority of urban slum-dwellers are truly and 
radically homeless in the contemporary international economy.

Slums, of course, originate in the global countryside where, as Deborah 
Bryceson reminds us, unequal competition with large-scale agro-industry is 
tearing traditional rural society ‘apart at the seams’. [89] As rural areas 
lose their ‘storage capacity’, slums take their place, and urban 
‘involution’ replaces rural involution as a sink for surplus labour which 
can only keep pace with subsistence by ever more heroic feats of 
self-exploitation and the further competitive subdivision of already 
densely filled survival niches. [90] ‘Modernization’, ‘Development’ and, 
now, the unfettered ‘Market’ have had their day. The labour-power of a 
billion people has been expelled from the world system, and who can imagine 
any plausible scenario, under neoliberal auspices, that would reintegrate 
them as productive workers or mass consumers?

6. MARX AND THE HOLY GHOST

[The Lord says:] The time will come when the poor man will say that he has 
nothing to eat and work will be shut down . . . That is going to cause the 
poor man to go to these places and break in to get food. This will cause 
the rich man to come out with his gun to make war with the labouring man. . 
. . blood will be in the streets like an outpouring rain from heaven.
A prophecy from the 1906 ‘Azusa Street Awakening’


The late capitalist triage of humanity, then, has already taken place. The 
global growth of a vast informal proletariat, moreover, is a wholly 
original structural development unforeseen by either classical Marxism or 
modernization pundits. Slums indeed challenges social theory to grasp the 
novelty of a true global residuum lacking the strategic economic power of 
socialized labor, but massively concentrated in a shanty-town world 
encircling the fortified enclaves of the urban rich.

Tendencies toward urban involution, of course, existed during the 
nineteenth century. The European industrial revolutions were incapable of 
absorbing the entire supply of displaced rural labour, especially after 
continental agriculture was exposed to the devastating competition of the 
North American prairies from the 1870s. But mass immigration to the settler 
societies of the Americas and Oceania, as well as Siberia, provided a 
dynamic safety-valve that prevented the rise of mega-Dublins as well as the 
spread of the kind of underclass anarchism that had taken root in the most 
immiserated parts of Southern Europe. Today surplus labour, by contrast, 
faces unprecedented barriers—a literal ‘great wall’ of high-tech border 
enforcement—blocking large-scale migration to the rich countries. Likewise, 
controversial population resettlement programmes in ‘frontier’ regions like 
Amazonia, Tibet, Kalimantan and Irian Jaya produce environmental 
devastation and ethnic conflict without substantially reducing urban 
poverty in Brazil, China and Indonesia.

Thus only the slum remains as a fully franchised solution to the problem of 
warehousing the twenty-first century’s surplus humanity. But aren’t the 
great slums, as a terrified Victorian bourgeoisie once imagined, volcanoes 
waiting to erupt? Or does ruthless Darwinian competition, as increasing 
numbers of poor people compete for the same informal scraps, ensure 
self-consuming communal violence as yet the highest form of urban 
involution? To what extent does an informal proletariat possess that most 
potent of Marxist talismans: ‘historical agency’? Can disincorporated 
labour be reincorporated in a global emancipatory project? Or is the 
sociology of protest in the immiserated megacity a regression to the 
pre-industrial urban mob, episodically explosive during consumption crises, 
but otherwise easily managed by clientelism, populist spectacle and appeals 
to ethnic unity? Or is some new, unexpected historical subject, à la Hardt 
and Negri, slouching toward the supercity?

In truth, the current literature on poverty and urban protest offers few 
answers to such large-scale questions. Some researchers, for example, would 
question whether the ethnically diverse slum poor or economically 
heterogeneous informal workers even constitute a meaningful ‘class in 
itself’, much less a potentially activist ‘class for itself’. Surely, the 
informal proletariat bears ‘radical chains’ in the Marxist sense of having 
little or no vested interest in the preservation of the existing mode of 
production. But because uprooted rural migrants and informal workers have 
been largely dispossessed of fungible labour-power, or reduced to domestic 
service in the houses of the rich, they have little access to the culture 
of collective labour or large-scale class struggle. Their social stage, 
necessarily, must be the slum street or marketplace, not the factory or 
international assembly line.

Struggles of informal workers, as John Walton emphasizes in a recent review 
of research on social movements in poor cities, have tended, above all, to 
be episodic and discontinuous. They are also usually focused on immediate 
consumption issues: land invasions in search of affordable housing and 
riots against rising food or utility prices. In the past, at least, ‘urban 
problems in developing societies have been more typically mediated by 
patron­client relations than by popular activism.’ [91] Since the debt 
crisis of the 1980s, neopopulist leaders in Latin America have had dramatic 
success in exploiting the desperate desire of the urban poor for more 
stable, predictable structures of daily life. Although Walton doesn’t make 
the point explicitly, the urban informal sector has been ideologically 
promiscuous in its endorsement of populist saviours: in Peru rallying to 
Fujimori, but in Venezuela embracing Chávez. [92] In Africa and South Asia, 
on the other hand, urban clientelism too often equates with the dominance 
of ethno-religious bigots and their nightmare ambitions of ethnic 
cleansing. Notorious examples include the anti-Muslim militias of the Oodua 
People’s Congress in Lagos and the semi-fascist Shiv Sena movement in 
Bombay. [93]

Will such ‘eighteenth-century’ sociologies of protest persist into the 
middle twenty-first century? The past is probably a poor guide to the 
future. History is not uniformitarian. The new urban world is evolving with 
extraordinary speed and often in unpredictable directions. Everywhere the 
continuous accumulation of poverty undermines existential security and 
poses even more extraordinary challenges to the economic ingenuity of the 
poor. Perhaps there is a tipping point at which the pollution, congestion, 
greed and violence of everyday urban life finally overwhelm the ad hoc 
civilities and survival networks of the slum. Certainly in the old rural 
world there were thresholds, often calibrated by famine, that passed 
directly to social eruption. But no one yet knows the social temperature at 
which the new cities of poverty spontaneously combust.

Indeed, for the moment at least, Marx has yielded the historical stage to 
Mohammed and the Holy Ghost. If God died in the cities of the industrial 
revolution, he has risen again in the postindustrial cities of the 
developing world. The contrast between the cultures of urban poverty in the 
two eras is extraordinary. As Hugh McLeod has shown in his magisterial 
study of Victorian working-class religion, Marx and Engels were largely 
accurate in their belief that urbanization was secularizing the working 
class. Although Glasgow and New York were partial exceptions, ‘the line of 
interpretation that associates working-class detachment from the church 
with growing class consciousness is in a sense incontestable’. If small 
churches and dissenting sects thrived in the slums, the great current was 
active or passive disbelief. Already by the 1880s, Berlin was scandalizing 
foreigners as ‘the most irreligious city in the world’ and in London, 
median adult church attendance in the proletarian East End and Docklands by 
1902 was barely 12 per cent (and that mostly Catholic). [94] In Barcelona, 
of course, an anarchist working class sacked the churches during the Semana 
Trágica, while in the slums of St. Petersburg, Buenos Aires and even Tokyo, 
militant workers avidly embraced the new faiths of Darwin, Kropotkin and Marx.

Today, on the other hand, populist Islam and Pentecostal Christianity (and 
in Bombay, the cult of Shivaji) occupy a social space analogous to that of 
early twentieth-century socialism and anarchism. In Morocco, for instance, 
where half a million rural emigrants are absorbed into the teeming cities 
every year, and where half the population is under 25, Islamicist movements 
like ‘Justice and Welfare’, founded by Sheik Abdessalam Yassin, have become 
the real governments of the slums: organizing night schools, providing 
legal aid to victims of state abuse, buying medicine for the sick, 
subsidizing pilgrimages and paying for funerals. As Prime Minister 
Abderrahmane Youssoufi, the Socialist leader who was once exiled by the 
monarchy, recently admitted to Ignacio Ramonet, ‘We [the Left] have become 
embourgeoisified. We have cut ourselves off from the people. We need to 
reconquer the popular quarters. The Islamicists have seduced our natural 
electorate. They promise them heaven on earth.’ An Islamicist leader, on 
the other hand, told Ramonet: ‘confronted with the neglect of the state, 
and faced with the brutality of daily life, people discover, thanks to us, 
solidarity, self-help, fraternity. They understand that Islam is humanism.’ 
[95]

The counterpart of populist Islam in the slums of Latin America and much of 
sub-Saharan Africa is Pentecostalism. Christianity, of course, is now, in 
its majority, a non-Western religion (two-thirds of its adherents live 
outside Europe and North America), and Pentecostalism is its most dynamic 
missionary in cities of poverty. Indeed the historical specificity of 
Pentecostalism is that it is the first major world religion to have grown 
up almost entirely in the soil of the modern urban slum. With roots in 
early ecstatic Methodism and African-American spirituality, Pentecostalism 
‘awoke’ when the Holy Ghost gave the gift of tongues to participants in an 
interracial prayer marathon in a poor neighbourhood of Los Angeles (Azusa 
Street) in 1906. Unified around spirit baptism, miracle healing, charismata 
and a premillennial belief in a coming world war of capital and labour, 
early American Pentecostalism—as religious historians have repeatedly 
noted—originated as a ‘prophetic democracy’ whose rural and urban 
constituencies overlapped, respectively, with those of Populism and the 
iww. [96] Indeed, like Wobbly organizers, its early missionaries to Latin 
America and Africa ‘lived often in extreme poverty, going out with little 
or no money, seldom knowing where they would spend the night, or how they 
would get their next meal.’ [97] They also yielded nothing to the iww in 
their vehement denunciations of the injustices of industrial capitalism and 
its inevitable destruction.

Symptomatically, the first Brazilian congregation, in an anarchist 
working-class district of São Paulo, was founded by an Italian artisan 
immigrant who had exchanged Malatesta for the Spirit in Chicago. [98] In 
South Africa and Rhodesia, Pentecostalism established its early footholds 
in the mining compounds and shanty towns; where, according to Jean 
Comaroff, ‘it seemed to accord with indigenous notions of pragmatic spirit 
forces and to redress the depersonalization and powerlessness of the urban 
labour experience.’ [99] Conceding a larger role to women than other 
Christian churches and immensely supportive of abstinence and frugality, 
Pentecostalism—as R. Andrew Chesnut discovered in the baixadas of Belém—has 
always had a particular attraction to ‘the most immiserated stratum of the 
impoverished classes’: abandoned wives, widows and single mothers. [100] 
Since 1970, and largely because of its appeal to slum women and its 
reputation for being colour-blind, it has been growing into what is 
arguably the largest self-organized movement of urban poor people on the 
planet. [101]

Although recent claims of ‘over 533 million Pentecostal/charismatics in the 
world in 2002’ are probably hyperbole, there may well be half that number. 
It is generally agreed that 10 per cent of Latin America is Pentecostal 
(about 40 million people) and that the movement has been the single most 
important cultural response to explosive and traumatic urbanization. [102] 
As Pentecostalism has globalized, of course, it has differentiated into 
distinct currents and sociologies. But if in Liberia, Mozambique and 
Guatemala, American-sponsored churches have been vectors of dictatorship 
and repression, and if some us congregations are now gentrified into the 
suburban mainstream of fundamentalism, the missionary tide of 
Pentecostalism in the Third World remains closer to the original 
millenarian spirit of Azusa Street. [103] Above all, as Chesnut found in 
Brazil, ‘Pentecostalism . . . remains a religion of the informal periphery’ 
(and in Belém, in particular, ‘the poorest of the poor’). In Peru, where 
Pentecostalism is growing almost exponentially in the vast barriadas of 
Lima, Jefrey Gamarra contends that the growth of the sects and of the 
informal economy ‘are a consequence of and a response to each other’. [104] 
Paul Freston adds that it ‘is the first autonomous mass religion in Latin 
America . . . Leaders may not be democratic, but they come from the same 
social class’. [105]

In contrast to populist Islam, which emphasizes civilizational continuity 
and the trans-class solidarity of faith, Pentecostalism, in the tradition 
of its African-American origins, retains a fundamentally exilic identity. 
Although, like Islam in the slums, it efficiently correlates itself to the 
survival needs of the informal working class (organizing self-help networks 
for poor women; offering faith healing as para-medicine; providing recovery 
from alcoholism and addiction; insulating children from the temptations of 
the street; and so on), its ultimate premise is that the urban world is 
corrupt, injust and unreformable. Whether, as Jean Comaroff has argued in 
her book on African Zionist churches (many of which are now Pentecostal), 
this religion of ‘the marginalized in the shantytowns of neocolonial 
modernity’ is actually a ‘more radical’ resistance than ‘participation in 
formal politics or labour unions’, remains to be seen. [106] But, with the 
Left still largely missing from the slum, the eschatology of Pentecostalism 
admirably refuses the inhuman destiny of the Third World city that Slums 
warns about. It also sanctifies those who, in every structural and 
existential sense, truly live in exile.


[1] un Population Division, World Urbanization Prospects, the 2001 
Revision, New York 2002.

[2] Population Information Program, Population Reports: Meeting the Urban 
Challenge, vol. xxx, no. 4, Fall 2002, p. 1.

[3] Wolfgang Lutz, Warren Sandeson and Sergei Scherbov, ‘Doubling of world 
population unlikely’, Nature 387, 19 June 1997, pp. 803­4. However the 
populations of sub-Saharan Africa will triple and India, double.

[4] Global Urban Observatory, Slums of the World: The face of urban poverty 
in the new millennium?, New York 2003, p. 10.

[5] Although the velocity of global urbanization is not in doubt, the 
growth rates of specific cities may brake abruptly as they encounter the 
frictions of size and congestion. A famous instance of such a ‘polarization 
reversal’ is Mexico City: widely predicted to achieve a population of 25 
million during the 1990s (the current population is probably about 18 or 19 
million). See Yue-man Yeung, ‘Geography in an age of mega-cities’, 
International Social Sciences Journal 151, 1997, p. 93.

[6] For a perspective, see Yue-Man Yeung, ‘Viewpoint: Integration of the 
Pearl River Delta’, International Development Planning Review, vol. 25, no. 
3, 2003.

[7] Far Eastern Economic Review, Asia 1998 Yearbook, p. 63.

[8] un-Habitat, The Challenge of the Slums: Global Report on Human 
Settlements 2003, London 2003, p. 3.

[9] Gregory Guldin, What’s a Peasant to Do? Village Becoming Town in 
Southern China, Boulder, co 2001, p. 13.

[10] Miguel Villa and Jorge Rodriguez, ‘Demographic trends in Latin 
America’s metropolises, 1950­1990’, in Alan Gilbert, ed., The Mega-City in 
Latin America, Tokyo 1996, pp. 33­4.

[11] Guldin, Peasant, pp. 14, 17. See also Jing Neng Li, ‘Structural and 
Spatial Economic changes and their Effects on Recent Urbanization in 
China’, in Gavin Jones and Pravin Visaria, eds, Urbanization in Large 
Developing Countries, Oxford 1997, p. 44.

[12] See T. McGee, ‘The Emergence of Desakota Regions in Asia: Expanding a 
Hypothesis’, in Northon Ginsburg, Bruce Koppell and T. McGee, eds, The 
Extended Metropolis: Settlement Transition in Asia, Honolulu 1991.

[13] Yue-man Yeung and Fu-chen Lo, ‘Global restructuring and emerging urban 
corridors in Pacific Asia’, in Lo and Yeung, eds, Emerging World Cities in 
Pacific Asia, Tokyo 1996, p. 41.

[14] Guldin, Peasant, p. 13.

[15] Wang Mengkui, advisor to the State Council, quoted in the Financial 
Times, 26 November 2003. Since the market reforms of the late 1970s it is 
estimated that almost 300 million Chinese have moved from rural areas to 
cities. Another 250 or 300 million are expected to follow in coming 
decades. (Financial Times, 16 December 2003.)

[16] Josef Gugler, ‘Introduction—II. Rural­Urban Migration’, in Gugler, 
ed., Cities in the Developing World: Issues, Theory and Policy, Oxford 
1997, p. 43. For a contrarian view that disputes generally accepted World 
Bank and un data on continuing high rates of urbanization during the 1980s, 
see Deborah Potts, ‘Urban lives: Adopting new strategies and adapting rural 
links’, in Carole Rakodi, ed., TheUrban Challenge in Africa: Growth and 
Management of Its Large Cities, Tokyo 1997, pp. 463­73.

[17] David Simon, ‘Urbanization, globalization and economic crisis in 
Africa’, in Rakodi, Urban Challenge, p. 95.

[18] See Josef Gugler, ‘Overurbanization Reconsidered’, in Gugler, Cities 
in the Developing World, pp. 114­23. By contrast, the former command 
economies of the Soviet Union and Maoist China restricted in-migration to 
cities and thus tended toward ‘under-urbanization’.

[19] Foreword to Jacinta Prunty, Dublin Slums 1800­1925: A Study in Urban 
Geography, Dublin 1998, p. ix.

[20] ‘Thus, it appears that for low income countries, a significant fall in 
urban incomes may not necessarily produce in the short term a decline in 
rural­urban migration.’ Nigel Harris, ‘Urbanization, Economic Development 
and Policy in Developing Countries’, Habitat International, vol. 14, no. 4, 
1990, p. 21­2.

[21] On Third World urbanization and the global debt crisis, see York 
Bradshaw and Rita Noonan, ‘Urbanization, Economic Growth, and Women’s 
Labour-Force Participation’, in Gugler, Cities in the DevelopingWorld, pp. 
9­10.

[22] Slums: for publication details, see footnote 8.

[23] Branko Milanovic, True world income distribution 1988 and 1993, World 
Bank, New York 1999. Milanovic and his colleague Schlomo Yitzhaki are the 
first to calculate world income distribution based on the household survey 
data from individual countries.

[24] unicef, to be fair, has criticized the imf for years, pointing out 
that ‘hundreds of thousands of the developing world’s children have given 
their lives to pay their countries’ debts’. See The State of theWorld’s 
Children, Oxford 1989, p. 30.

[25] Slums, p. 6.

[26] Such a study, one supposes, would survey, at one end, urban hazards 
and infrastructural breakdown and, at the other, the impact of climate 
change on agriculture and migration.

[27] Prunty, Dublin Slums, p. 2.

[28] Slums, p. 12.

[29] Slums, pp. 2­3.

[30] See A. Oberai, Population Growth, Employment and Poverty in Third 
World Mega-Cities, New York 1993, p. 28. In 1980 the 0­19 cohort of big 
oecd cities was from 19 to 28 per cent of the population; of Third World 
mega-cities, 40 to 53 per cent.

[31] Slums of the World, pp. 33­4.

[32] Simon, ‘Urbanization in Africa’, p. 103; and Jean-Luc Piermay, 
‘Kinshasa: A reprieved mega-city?’, in Rakodi, Urban Challenge, p. 236.

[33] Sabir Ali, ‘Squatters: Slums within Slums’, in Prodipto Roy and 
Shangon Das Gupta, eds, Urbanization and Slums, Delhi 1995, pp. 55­9.

[34] Jonathan Rigg, Southeast Asia: A Region in Transition, London 1991, p. 
143.

[35] Slums of the World, p. 34

[36] Salah El-Shakhs, ‘Toward appropriate urban development policy in 
emerging mega-cities in Africa’, in Rakodi, Urban Challenge, p. 516.

[37] Daily Times of Nigeria, 20 October 2003. Lagos has grown more 
explosively than any large Third World city except for Dhaka. In 1950 it 
had only 300,000 inhabitants but then grew almost 10 per cent per annum 
until 1980, when it slowed to about 6%—still a very rapid rate—during the 
years of structural readjustment.

[38] Amy Otchet, ‘Lagos: the survival of the determined’, unesco Courier, 
June 1999.

[39] Slums, p. 50.

[40] Winter King, ‘Illegal Settlements and the Impact of Titling 
Programmes,’ Harvard Law Review, vol. 44, no. 2, September 2003, p. 471.

[41] United Nations, Karachi, Population Growth and Policies in Megacities 
series, New York 1988, p. 19.

[42] The absence of infrastructure, however, does create innumerable niches 
for informal workers: selling water, carting nightsoil, recycling trash, 
delivering propane and so on.

[43] World Resources Institute, World Resources: 1996­97, Oxford 1996, p. 21.

[44] Slums of the World, p. 25.

[45] Slums, p. 99.

[46] Slums of the World, p. 12.

[47] For an exemplary case-study, see Greg Bankoff, ‘Constructing 
Vulnerability: The Historical, Natural and Social Generation of Flooding in 
Metropolitan Manila’, Disasters, vol. 27, no. 3, 2003, pp. 224­38.

[48] Otchet, ‘Lagos’; and Li Zhang, Strangers in the City: Reconfigurations 
of Space, Power and Social Networks within China’s Floating Population, 
Stanford 2001; Alan Gilbert, The Latin American City, New York 1998, p. 16.

[49] Martin Ravallion, On the urbanization of poverty, World Bank paper, 2001.

[50] Slums, p. 28.

[51] Slums of the World, p. 12.

[52] Fidelis Odun Balogun, Adjusted Lives: stories of structural 
adjustment, Trenton, nj 1995, p. 80.

[53] The Challenge of Slums, p. 30. ‘Urban bias’ theorists, like Michael 
Lipton who invented the term in 1977, argue that agriculture tends to be 
undercapitalized in developing countries, and cities relatively 
‘overurbanized’, because fiscal and financial policies favour urban elites 
and distort investment flows. At the limit, cities are vampires of the 
countryside. See Lipton, Why Poor People StayPoor: A Study of Urban Bias in 
World Development, Cambridge 1977.

[54] Quoted in Tony Killick, ‘Twenty-five Years in Development: the Rise 
and Impending Decline of Market Solutions’, Development Policy Review, vol. 
4, 1986, p. 101.

[55] Deborah Bryceson, ‘Disappearing Peasantries? Rural Labour Redundancy 
in the Neoliberal Era and Beyond’, in Bryceson, Cristóbal Kay and Jos 
Mooij, eds, Disappearing Peasantries? Rural Labour in Africa, Asia and 
Latin America, London 2000, p. 304­5.

[56] Ha-Joon Chang, ‘Kicking Away the Ladder: Infant Industry Promotion in 
Historical Perspective’, OxfordDevelopment Studies, vol. 31, no. 1, 2003, 
p. 21. ‘Per capita income in developing countries grew at 3 per cent per 
annum between 1960 and 1980, but at only about 1.5 per cent between 1980 
and 2000 . . . Neoliberal economists are therefore faced with a paradox 
here. The developing countries grew much faster when they used ‘bad’ 
policies during 1960­80 than when they used ‘good’ (or least ‘better’) 
policies during the following two decades.’ (p. 28).

[57] Slums, p. 48.

[58] Carole Rakodi, ‘Global Forces, Urban Change, and Urban Management in 
Africa’, in Rakodi, Urban Challenge, pp. 50, 60­1.

[59] Piermay, ‘Kinshasa’, p. 235­6; ‘Megacities’, Time, 11 January 1993, p. 
26.

[60] Michael Mattingly, ‘The Role of the Government of Urban Areas in the 
Creation of Urban Poverty’, in Sue Jones and Nici Nelson, eds, Urban 
Poverty in Africa, London 1999, p. 21.

[61] Adil Ahmad and Ata El-Batthani, ‘Poverty in Khartoum’, Environment and 
Urbanization, vol. 7, no. 2, October 1995, p. 205.

[62] Alain Dubresson, ‘Abidjan’, in Rakodi, Urban Challenge, pp. 261­3.

[63] World Bank, Nigeria: Country Brief, September 2003.

[64] un, World Urbanization Prospects, p. 12.

[65] Luis Ainstein, ‘Buenos Aires: a case of deepening social 
polarization’, in Gilbert, Mega-City in LatinAmerica, p. 139.

[66] Gustavo Riofrio, ‘Lima: Mega-city and mega-problem’, in Gilbert, 
Mega-City in LatinAmerica, p. 159; and Gilbert, Latin American City, p. 73.

[67] Hamilton Tolosa, ‘Rio de Janeiro: Urban expansion and structural 
change’, in Gilbert, Mega-City in LatinAmerica, p. 211.

[68] World Bank, Inequality in Latin America and the Caribbean, New York 2003.

[69] Orlandina de Oliveira and Bryan Roberts, ‘The Many Roles of the 
Informal Sector in Development’, in Cathy Rakowski, ed., Contrapunto: the 
Informal Sector Debate in Latin America, Albany 1994, pp. 64­8.

[70] Christian Rogerson, ‘Globalization or informalization? African urban 
economies in the 1990s’, in Rakodi, Urban Challenge, p. 348.

[71] Slums, p. 2.

[72] Albert Park et al., ‘The Growth of Wage Inequality in Urban China, 
1988 to 1999’, World Bank working paper, February 2003, p. 27 (quote); and 
John Knight and Linda Song, ‘Increasing urban wage inequality in China’, 
Economics of Transition, vol. 11, no. 4, 2003, p. 616 (discrimination).

[73] Slums, p. 34.

[74] Shaohua Chen and Martin Ravallion, How Did the World’s Poorest Fare in 
the 1990s?, World Bank paper, 2000.

[75] See my Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of 
the Third World, London 2001, especially pp. 206­9.

[76] Slums, pp. 40, 46.

[77] Keith Hart, ‘Informal income opportunities and urban employment in 
Ghana’, Journal of ModernAfrican Studies, 11, 1973, pp. 61­89.

[78] Alejandro Portes and Kelly Hoffman, ‘Latin American Class Structures: 
Their Composition and Change during the Neoliberal Era’, Latin American 
Research Review, vol. 38, no. 1, 2003, p. 55.

[79] Slums, p. 60.

[80] Cited in the Economist, 21 March 1998, p. 37.

[81] Dennis Rondinelli and John Kasarda, ‘Job Creation Needs in Third World 
Cities’, in Kasarda and Allan Parnell, eds, Third World Cities: Problems, 
policies and prospects, Newbury Park, ca 1993, pp. 106­7.

[82] Slums, p. 103.

[83] Guy Mhone, ‘The impact of structural adjustment on the urban informal 
sector in Zimbabwe’, Issues inDevelopment discussion paper no. 2, 
International Labour Office, Geneva n.d., p. 19.

[84] Slums, p. 104.

[85] Orlandina de Oliveira and Bryan Roberts rightly emphasize that the 
bottom strata of the urban labour-force should be identified ‘not simply by 
occupational titles or whether the job was formal or informal, but by the 
household strategy for obtaining an income’. The mass of the urban poor can 
only exist by ‘income pooling, sharing housing, food and other resources’ 
either with kin or landsmen. (‘Urban Development and Social Inequality in 
Latin America’, in Gugler, Cities in the Developing World, p. 290.)

[86] Statistic on street kids: Natural History, July 1997, p. 4.

[87] Dubresson, ‘Abidjan’, p. 263.

[88] Rogerson, ‘Globalization or informalization?’, p. 347­51.

[89] Bryceson, ‘Disappearing Peasantries’, pp. 307­8.

[90] In Clifford Geertz’s original, inimitable definition, ‘involution’ is 
‘an overdriving of an established form in such a way that it becomes rigid 
through an inward over-elaboration of detail’. (Agricultural involution: 
Social development and economic change in twoIndonesian towns, Chicago 
1963, p. 82.) More prosaically, ‘involution’, agricultural or urban, can be 
described as spiralling labour self-exploitation (other factors fixed) 
which continues, despite rapidly diminishing returns, as long as any return 
or increment is produced.

[91] John Walton, ‘Urban Conflict and Social Movements in Poor Countries: 
Theory and Evidence of Collective Action’, paper to ‘Cities in Transition 
Conference’, Humboldt University, Berlin, July 1987.

[92] Kurt Weyland, ‘Neopopulism and Neoliberalism in Latin America: how 
much affinity?’, Third World Quarterly, vol. 24, no. 6, 2003, pp. 1095­115.

[93] For a fascinating if frightening account of Shiv Sena’s ascendancy in 
Bombay at the expense of older Communist and trade-union politics, see 
Thomas Hansen, Wages of Violence: Naming and Identity in Postcolonial 
Bombay, Princeton 2001. See also Veena Das, ed., Mirrors of Violence: 
Communities, Riots and Survivors in South Asia, New York 1990.

[94] Hugh McLeod, Piety and Poverty: Working-Class Religion in Berlin, 
London and New York, 1870­1914, New York 1996, pp. xxv, 6, 32.

[95] Ignacio Ramonet, ‘Le Maroc indécis’, Le Monde diplomatique, July 2000, 
pp. 12­13. Another former leftist told Ramonet: ‘Nearly 65 per cent of the 
population lives under the poverty line. The people of the bidonvilles are 
entirely cut off from the elites. They see the elites the way they used to 
see the French.’

[96] In his controversial sociological interpretation of Pentecostalism, 
Robert Mapes Anderson claimed that ‘its unconscious intent’, like other 
millenarian movements, was actually ‘revolutionary’. (Vision of 
theDisinherited: The Making of American Pentecostalism, Oxford 1979, p. 222.)

[97] Anderson, Vision of the Disinherited, p. 77.

[98] R. Andrew Chesnut, Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and the 
Pathogens of Poverty, New Brunswick 1997, p. 29. On the historical 
associations of Pentecostalism with anarchism in Brazil, see Paul Freston, 
‘Pentecostalism in Latin America: Characteristics and Controversies’, 
Social Compass, vol. 45, no. 3, 1998, p. 342.

[99] David Maxwell, ‘Historicizing Christian Independency: The Southern 
Africa Pentecostal Movement, c. 1908­60’, Journal of African History 40, 
1990, p. 249; and Jean Comaroff, Body of Power, Spirit of Resistance, 
Chicago 1985, p. 186.

[100] Chesnut, Born Again, p. 61. Indeed, Chesnut found that the Holy Ghost 
not only moved tongues but improved family budgets. ‘By eliminating 
expenditures associated with the male prestige complex, Assembelianos were 
able to climb from the lower and middle ranks of poverty to the upper 
echelons, and some Quandrangulares migrated from poverty . . . to the lower 
rungs of the middle class’: p. 18.

[101] ‘In all of human history, no other non-political, non-militaristic, 
voluntary human movement has grown as rapidly as the 
Pentecostal-Charismatic movement in the last twenty years’: Peter Wagner, 
foreward to Vinson Synan, The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition, Grand Rapids 
1997, p. xi.

[102] The high estimate is from David Barret and Todd Johnson, ‘Annual 
Statistical Table on Global Mission: 2001,’ International Bulletin of 
Missionary Research, vol. 25, no. 1, January 2001, p. 25. Synan says there 
were 217 million denominated Pentecostals in 1997 (Holiness, p. ix). On 
Latin America, compare Freston, ‘Pentecostalism’, p. 337; Anderson, Vision 
of the Disinherited; and David Martin, ‘Evangelical and Charismatic 
Christianity in Latin America’, in Karla Poewe, ed., Charismatic 
Christianity as a Global Culture, Columbia 1994, pp. 74­5.

[103] See Paul Gifford’s brilliant Christianity and Politics in Doe’s 
Liberia, Cambridge 1993. Also Peter Walshe, Prophetic Christianity and the 
Liberation Movement in South Africa, Pietermaritzburg 1995, especially pp. 
110­1.

[104] Jefrey Gamarra, ‘Conflict, Post-Conflict and Religion: Andean 
Responses to New Religious Movements’, Journal of Southern African Studies, 
vol. 26, no. 2, June 2000, p. 272. Andres Tapia quotes the Peruvian 
theologian Samuel Escobar who sees Sendero Luminoso and the Pentecostals as 
‘flip sides of the same coin’—‘both were seeking a powerful break with 
injustices, only the means were different.’ ‘With Shining Path’s decline, 
Pentecostalism has emerged as the winner for the souls of poor Peruvians.’ 
(‘In the Ashes of the Shining Path’, Pacific News Service, 14 Feburary 1996).

[105] Freston, ‘Pentecostalism’, p. 352.

[106] Comaroff, Body of Power, pp. 259­63.



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