Project Directors: Saidiya Hartman, Anupama Rao, Neferti Tadiar

Urbanization is a defining feature of contemporary globalization. The “megacities” of the twenty-first century are distinguished by two things: their location in the global South, and the ubiquity of informal, or “slum” housing as the primary mode of inhabitation for the majority of their urban dwellers (UNHCS Report, Challenge of Slums 2003; Mike Davis, Planet of Slums 2006). Contemporary urbanization thus presents us with a paradox: it is characterized by spectacular levels of economic growth, together with the informalization of existence.

How have informal housing and the contemporary slum become sites of global intervention, simultaneously conceived as (social) problem, and the site of social experimentation and creative, or resistant life? How are urban social relations, especially of gender, being transformed in the wake of neoliberalism, and the re-territorialization of urban space? Why do women suffer disproportionately from the social hazards of urban informality?

It is typical to attribute the persistence of slums in the global South to the culture of poverty, or as signs of corrupt or insufficient planning. Instead this project addresses the global slum as the product of a complex interplay between the political economy of urban space, and the spatialization of social difference, especially gender/sexuality. Our project addresses the contemporary “slum” as a social-spatial ensemble produced by overlapping and intersecting forces. These include: changing ideas about housing as a right vs. marketized commodity; infrapolitics, i.e., practices from electricity and water theft, to acts of defacement and violent conflict that are a response to social precarity and informalized existence; and the impact of international NGOs and the World Bank in shaping contemporary debates about slum redevelopment and rehabilitation. We locate women’s growing vulnerability to new forms of intimate and extimate violence, and their reliance on illicit economies of survival and subsistence (including sex work) within broader infrastructural and policy shifts, to explore how gender is made and unmade in the context of global power.