Gender & the Global Slum

Women Creating Change

Directed by: Saidiya Hartman, Anupama Rao, and Neferti Tadiar

Urbanization is a defining feature of contemporary globalizationThe “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.


Mumbai Workshop on Subaltern Urbanism, January 7-9, 2013
Workshop conveners: Saidiya Hartman, Anupama Rao, and Neferti Tadiar

The Mumbai workshop sought to anchor broader questions about city theory around a more localized set of concerns around survival, social difference, and emergent forms of sociality as these are impacting cities of the global South under conditions of neoliberal transformation. It explored “the urban” as a historic and contemporary form of life; as a set of protocols for living implicit in the organization of the built environment, the management of human movement and density, and the creation and facilitation of sociality through means of communication and exchange. Typically, studies of global urbanity focus on issues such as accelerated migration, resource provision, and rising socio-ethnic conflict enabled by subalterns’ access to new technologies of violence. Instead, the aim for the workshop is two-fold:

1)    The first was to ask how we might we deploy theories of comparison and connection to illuminate shared histories of precarity and stigmatized life across the East/West divide, by addressing spatial unevenness as a grounding condition for the production of racial and colonial “difference.”

2)    The second focus was on those practices of embodiment and inhabitation we term “subaltern urbanism.” These encompass complex relations of conflict and transaction between dominant protocols for organizing life, and practices of survival by those targeted for relocation and elimination from the city, who are subject to various zoning as well as coding practices.

The Mumbai workshop brought together a group of local scholars artists, and activists to explore themes of built planning and infrapolitics; the relationship of political violence to new formations of social and spatial segregation; the relationship of gender and inhabitation; political aesthetics that consider archives of sound, voice, and visual culture, and issues in comparative urbanism (with specific focus on the racialized spaces of the United States and South Africa.)


New York City Workshop on "Public City, Private City," August 27-28, 2014.
Workshop conveners: Paul Rabé and Anupama Rao

The program aimed to generate new humanities-focused research and knowledge in the field of Asian studies and urban studies by stimulating discussions between a range of different scholars and researchers in Asia, the United States, and Europe.  The overarching theme was the role of planning in the production of the built environment. Traditionally a public task, urban planning has devolved from government responsibility to private parties, particularly in many South and Southeast Asian cities. In this context, the workshop considered the impact of these new planning forms, many of which are accompanied by high degrees of speculation and the privatization of public space.
The workshop conveners sought to analyze the implications of these shifts through structured discussions around four main topics:

1)    The rise of the ’generic’ city: the long-term consequences of modern city-making in Asia and beyond

2)    The past and future of planning

3)    Alternate modes of city-making

4)    What role for urban knowledge?

Discussions centred on the politics of planning (from the physicality of plans to their modes of ’visibilization’ and on the way in which historical legacies of planning, spatial segregation, and informality challenge contemporary arguments about urban convergence. The focus was on contemporary Asian cities, but insights on comparative urbanism from other parts of the world – especially the United States – featured prominently in the analyses. 


Mumbai Workshop on "Urban Democracy: Informality, Precarity, and Modes of Survival," December 10-11, 2014.
Workshop convenors: Paul Rabé and Anupama Rao

The objective was to critically re-examine theories and policies relating to the subaltern city, i.e., the practices of survival, persistence and illegitimized existence found in the so-called ‘slums’ and ‘ghettos’ of colonial and late capitalist modernity, in order to find new ways of looking at these phenomena. 

The conveners were interested in how historical legacies of planning, spatial segregation and informality in Asian cities and beyond have enabled practices of urban life that challenge the aesthetics of modernism and the logic of private property. ‘Slums’ and ‘ghettos’ have been a refuge for disposable populations, including internally displaced persons, refugees, illegal immigrants – as well as the poor. But they are also sites of improvised and tenuous forms of sociality and social cooperation, political actions and claims – arguably forms of informal ‘democracy’ – which either go unrecognized or become stigmatized as violence, crime, or unproductive and fruitless ‘mob’ behavior. Encroachment, illegality, and the resort to informal livelihoods are sites of subaltern survival, and define struggles for recognition in the face of spatial exclusion and civic disenfranchisement.


Shanghai Workshop for "Asian Spatialities Project," October 20-21, 2015.
Workshop convenors: Anupama Rao and Paul Rabe

Thirty international participants gathered at Shanghai Academy for Social Sciences and convened "City Theory for the New Millennium" with sessions on "Understanding Asian Cities," "The State of Our Knowledge on Cities and Urbanization," "City Theory Contributions to Asian Studies," and "City Theory Contributions to the Humanities."  Conferees discussed the main characteristics of Asian cities, overarching urbanization trends, and possible interventions. 


New Delhi Workshop on "The Difference of Caste," December 21-22, 2015.
Workshop convenors: Anupama Rao and Ritu Menon

This closed-door workshop at the India International Centre in New Delhi was a prequel to the publication of a volume on the intersections of caste, gender, sex, and social difference edited by Rao, and published by Women Unlimited. The workshop was supported by funds from ICLS, and the Center for the Study of Social Difference.

Tentatively entitled The Difference of Caste, the volume will extend and elaborate on issues that were first addressed in a reader entitled Gender and Caste: Issues in Indian Feminism, that was published by Zed in 2003. That volume produced a counter-genealogy of Indian feminism, focalizing the interventions of anticaste activists who had persistently posited the sexual reproduction of caste as the grounds for its social reproduction. Gender and Caste asked scholars to recognize caste’s centrality to the production of the gendered subject, and feminism’s complicity in producing a limited, or partial subject of feminism.

The current volume seeks to build upon key transformations over the last decade and includes: the emergence of a vibrant Dalit public sphere of debate that has challenged the prejudices and exclusions of the academy; the challenge by queer and transgender activists regarding the heteronormalization of anticaste criticism; complex connections of caste inequity, religious difference, and gender exclusion; and literary and ethical explorations of utopia and emancipation.

Contributors/Participants included: Y. S. Alone (JNU, Delhi); Anjali Arondekar (UCSC, Santa Cruz); G. Arunima (JNU, Delhi) Varsha Ayyer (TISS, Mumbai); Prathama Banerjee (CSDS, Delhi); Pratiksha Baxi (JNU, Delhi); Urmila Bhirdikar (CUJ, Ahmedabad)Manuela Ciotti (Arhus, Denmark); Qudsiya Contractor (TISS, Mumbai); Gee and Smiley Vidya (transactivists, Bangalore and Chennai, respectively); Charu Gupta (DU, Delhi); Gopal Guru (JNU, Delhi); Aniket Jaaware (Pune University, Pune); Nicolas Jaoul (CNRS, Paris); Mary John (CWDS, Delhi); Lissa Lincoln (AUP, Paris); Lucinda Ramberg (Cornell, New York); K. Satyanrayana (EFLU, Hyderabad). 


New York Workshop on "Concept Histories of the Urban," September 16-17, 2016.
Workshop convenors: Anupama Rao and Casey Primel
“Concept Histories of the Urban” was the final meeting of the CSSD working group. The two-day workshop was organized by by Anupama Rao and Casey Primel, and supported by CSSD, the Center for the Study of Science and Society, the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society, and the Heyman Center for the Humanities. 
Described as an experiment in interdisciplinary and inter-regional comparisons and connections, the workshop focused on relating work on urbanizing processes outside of the West with the historical experience of the United States, and the relationship between race, space and social segregation in particular. 



Join us for Saskia Sassen, Robert S. Lynd Professor of Sociology and Co-Chair, Committee on Global Thought, Columbia University, speaking on the "Global Street" followed by a discussion on "Comparative Urbanism and the Politics of Form" with Arjun Appadurai, Paulette Goddard Professor of Media, Culture, and Communication, New York University moderated by Anupama Rao, Associate Professor of History, Barnard College, Columbia University. This talk will use the concept of The Global Street to open up a larger conceptual field to understand the complex interactions between power and powerlessness as they get shaped in urban space. Sassen will argue that the city makes visible the limits of superior military power and, most importantly, that cities enable powerlessness to become complex, not simply elementary. In this complexity lies the possibility of making history and remaking the political.
"Forms of Life" panel discussion featuring: João Costa Vargas, University of Texas on “Taking Back the Land: Contested Geographies and Sport Mega Events in Rio de Janeiro” and Denise Da Silva, Queen Mary University of London on "PoEthic Polis: Notes on the Ethico-Political Possibilities of the Urban Imagination"
Deborah A. Thomas, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, will be speaking on "Exceptional Violence: Embodied Citizenship in Transnational Jamaica." She is the author of Modern Blackness: Nationalism, Globalization, and the Politics of Culture in Jamaica and a co-editor of Globalization and Race: Transformations in the Cultural Production of Blackness, both also published by Duke University Press.