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Journal Articles La revue internationale et stratégique Year : 2018

Rethinking the "slum" category. From Damascus to Yangon, precarious settlements under urban policies


Since slums and precarious settlements have existed, public authorities have been trying to make them disappear and halt their growth. Everywhere, policies, laws, programmes and projects have sought to keep apace of this urbanisation in order to reduce it or integrate it into the formal city. Yet informal urbanisation has expanded at a faster pace. Policies have sometimes had significant effects, but they have neither cleared these settlements nor halted their growth. Why have fifty years of national and international interventions not made it possible to eliminate these settlements or halt urbanisation that fails to comply with laws, regulations and standards? In fact, what needs querying are the underlying assumptions of this question. First, the idea that precarious settlements are the problem. Of course, they do pose problems, above all for their residents, but for many decades they have also been recognised as solutions. Next, the idea that policies intervene in spaces whose existence ontologically preceded them: these settlements are assumed to exist first, and then come the policies to deal with them. Yet, the relationship proves to be more complex. Not only do these settlements constitute the flipside of urban planning and land policies, as they emerge in the spaces where these policies have failings and limitations, but their very existence is the direct consequence of the history of political constructions of categories of the precarious city. In a critical historical perspective, this article proposes a reflection on what constitutes a “slum”, based on the analysis of interactions between urban policies and the inhabitants who do not comply with their projects and injunctions. The category of “slum” is produced, regulated and perpetuated by legal, regulatory and/or administrative decisions that delineate the spaces to be eliminated according to a vision of what the city should be. In addition, the representations on which these policies are founded are at the root of their limitations. Moreover, the sheer variety of these spaces, deemed by public authorities to be “not urban enough”, obliges the authorities to classify them and reserve different fates for them, while the increasing influence of residents’ organisation is spurring public action to evolve. Finally, a diversity of urban policies is today redefining de facto the category of “slum” and encouraging a new way of thinking about the informal city, and more broadly about the urban phenomenon.
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Dates and versions

ird-02007914 , version 1 (05-02-2019)
ird-02007914 , version 2 (06-02-2019)
ird-02007914 , version 3 (20-05-2020)



Valérie Clerc. Rethinking the "slum" category. From Damascus to Yangon, precarious settlements under urban policies. La revue internationale et stratégique, 2018, pp.139. ⟨10.3917/ris.112.0139⟩. ⟨ird-02007914v3⟩
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