Slums

The History of a Global Injustice

Alan Mayne

Slums

Alan Mayne

Distributed for Reaktion Books

320 pages | 6 x 9
Cloth $29.95 ISBN: 9781780238098 Published October 2017 For sale in North and South America only
More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, and a billion of these urban dwellers reside in neighborhoods of entrenched disadvantage—neighborhoods that are characterized  as slums. Slums are often seen as a debilitating and even subversive presence within society. In reality, though, it is public policies that are often at fault, not the people who live in these neighborhoods.

In this comprehensive global history, Alan Mayne explores the evolution and meaning of the word “slum,” from its origins in London in the early nineteenth century to its use as a slur against the favela communities in the lead-up to the Rio Olympics in 2016. Mayne shows how the word slum has been extensively used for two hundred years to condemn and disparage poor communities, with the result that these agendas are now indivisible from the word’s essence. He probes beyond the stereotypes of deviance, social disorganization, inertia, and degraded environments to explore the spatial coherence, collective sense of community, and effective social organization of poor and marginalized neighborhoods over the last two centuries.

In mounting a case for the word’s elimination from the language of progressive urban social reform, Slums is a must-read book for all those interested in social history and the importance of the world’s vibrant and vital neighborhoods.
Review Quotes
Nature
“A billion people live in the shadow cities we call slums. Mayne’s trenchant social history traces how perception of them shifted. Victorians saw them as labyrinths or vortices—‘topsy-turvy’ realms of otherness. Today, they are more likely to be viewed as resilient hubs of innovation. Yet developers’ war on slums has seen no ceasefire. It’s hard to refute Mayne’s estimation: ‘We invent them to explain to ourselves the ugly traits, the logical incongruities, and the social inequalities of modern capitalist cities.’”
Times Literary Supplement
"Mayne's reach is impressively wide, ranging confidently over the policies an initiatives of not only the global south (As well as India, he cites evidence from Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Brazil) but the contemporary developed world too, where the clearance of areas condemned as obsolete or substandard has returned from time to time to disrupt and scarify the lives of the poor. . . . Inevitably Slums  is about failure. Mayne is candid about offering no solution to the problem he so comprehensively dissects. It is the dissection itself, laying bare the history of the slum label and exposing its malevolence, that he hopes will assist the world's policy makers to take a fresh look at the potential for environmentally sustainable informal housing areas, built as they have been, in the developing world at least, by the initiative and sheer hard graft of generations of the planet's poorest."
Choice
"Mayne reinforces his position as an academic expert on poverty. His impressive research and use of forceful language drives home his position to readers: the term 'slums' is a historically derived term of derision that is perpetuated by both popular misunderstandings ('slum tourism') and government-driven attempts to mitigate the negative consequences of slums ('slum wars'). The result is a continual misunderstanding of slums throughout the globe, characterized by inaccurate stereotypes, reinforced by existing prejudices against the poor and their locations, and perpetuated by futile government interventions doomed to failure. Mayne has done readers a great favor with his strong and direct approach. By demonstrating the historical development of the 'slum deceits,' the author demonstrates most clearly why determined efforts by governments have proven futile. He presents quite persuasively these failures from the past in order to enable present governments to be more successful in poverty alleviation, beginning with detaching 'slum' from its historically based misunderstandings. It can only be hoped that policy makers will read this book and gain a better understanding of their own flawed view of slums. . . . Highly recommended."
Mike Davis, author of "Planet of Slums"
“A tonic and rousing critique of the bad freight carried by the concept of ‘slum.’ Although an obvious offender in my own work, I’m entirely convinced by Mayne’s passionate polemic. No more ‘s’ word from me.”
AbdouMaliq Simone, Goldsmiths, University of London
“That the purportedly poor and marginal insist upon a presence in cities even when faced with seemingly intolerable material conditions is a reality long subjected to dismissals of all kinds. Mayne lacerates these dismissals, this war on the poor, with sweeping historical critique, instead demonstrating how the logics and policies that keep the ‘poor’ unsettled, simultaneously pacified and volatile, constitute a deception, covering over the distorted productivity of inequality, spatial engineering, and the reliance upon those consigned to the margins to regenerate new forms of sociality in face of denigration.”
Richard Dennis, University College London
“Mayne is a leading authority on the history of ‘slums.’ In his new book he turns his attention to the repetitions and continuities in society’s attitudes and policies towards slums worldwide over the past 200 years, from nineteenth-century Britain to the twenty-first-century Global South. His challenging, forthright book exposes how our continued use of the word slum is misleading, deceitful and downright wrong. His book speaks to historians concerned with the relevance of the past, but more especially to planners and policymakers who have ignored or forgotten the past and papered over the real implications of current urban development policies.”
For more information, or to order this book, please visit http://www.press.uchicago.edu
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