Planet of slums

by Mike Davis

Paper Book, 2007


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, and even from 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 unforeseen development, and asks whether the great slums, as a terrified Victorian middle class once imagined, are volcanoes waiting to erupt.



Call number



London ; New York : Verso, 2007.

User reviews

LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
My sister was all "Martin, is this my kind of nonfiction or Stephen's kind of nonfiction?" but it's neither intensely theoretical and aggravating nor highly conversational and informative, at least not entirely. What it is is a fairly dense but still readable sketch of our world, our real world,
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that - hence the title - doesn't shirk reminding us that the "global slum" really is becoming the predominant living environment of humankind.

Davis is so good at being drily factual that it takes time for it to sneak up on you that this is actually a polemic, and an extremely invigorating one. Proposition the first: We are a species of slumdwellers. The second: Our governments have failed us (when they haven't actually been trying to wipe us away). The third: Healthwise they are a disaster. The fourth: Economically slumdwellers are mostly invisible, virtually unhelpable, and unanimously exploited, despite the fetishization of microcredit and informal economic activity by neoliberal dogma and the Bretton Woods institutions (how refreshing to see microcredit get a finger in the eye instead of a pious obeisance, although I wish he would have spent more time really demonstrating that the people whose tiny stake just amounts to working themselves further into slavery are more numerous than the ones who are actually building something). The fifth: More and more people are falling into direr and direr straits worldwide (viz. the former Soviet bloc). It would have been interesting to get more of a handle on exactly WHY this deluge of new urbanites (I know, I know, as if rampant lawlessness and horror in the countryside, perceived economic opportunity in the cities, and policies that squeeze the urban middle classes down and the rural peasantry sideways and then down aren't enough). But when Davis ends figuring the future as Orwellian surveillance v. chaos and rage, it's sober, not a little chilling, and a lot more convincing than the George Bush version.
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LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
Read for class.

This is utterly terrifying and damning. These slums are the exemplification of hell. I have seen some of these slums myself, and can confirm, if only to a minor degree, some of the horrors there. You feel oppressed and filthy and sick just seeing them. Your senses are bombarded.
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Davis certainly gets this depiction right.

I would have loved to have had some answers aside from finger-pointing. It is incredibly frustrating to have a truly nightmarish problem presented and no clear solution, and even being blamed for unconsciously being part of the problem - although I confess his rhetoric is very convincing. But what is to be done in these circumstances? Any caring person would feel despondent or enraged. But what can we do about all this?

I would recommend reading up on books on reducing consumption in order to get some last shreds of hope back from this.

Recommended for anyone who wishes to despair for the state of humanity.
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LibraryThing member JBreedlove
A detailed and footnoted book full a history that is not usually spoken of in the west. That our comfortable lives have come at the cost of sending a billion other humans into the slums to survive. At times heavily written but the subject matter was gripping. I won't com,plaine about my old house
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as much now.
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LibraryThing member jbushnell
MacArthur fellow Mike Davis hunkers down and attempts to produce a readable synthesis of the enormous body of current literature on global urban poverty in this book, which ends up averaging about four footnotes per page. The general adherence to hard fact makes it difficult for Davis' usual
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theoretical insight to shine through, but the urgency of the subject matter more than compensates. Required reading.
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LibraryThing member McCaine
Mike Davis is always someone to seize an opportunity to decry the horrible situation somewhere, but in this case, it is an exposé that cannot be made often enough. "Planet of Slums" is a catalogue of the institutional failures, the despicable destruction, the filth and pollution, the poverty,
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misery and want, the disease and cynicism, in short the Verelendung of the worldwide poor that is the inevitable and eternal result of the capitalist mode of production. Within three decades, a stunning two billion people will live in the slums of megacities in the Third World, where all public services are absent, there are no toilets or drinking water, and where even the poor exploit the poor.

Mike Davis, as usual, pulls no punches and takes no prisoners in his description of the effects of the Washington Consensus on these undeveloped nations. Refuting the ideological mythologies of self-help such as De Sotoism and microlending, he demonstrates that the situation in the Third World is bleak and will get bleaker still. The longer the current order of neoliberalism and Structural Adjustment Programmes, led by such philanthropical heros as World Bank director Paul Wolfowitz, goes on, the more the absolute poverty, immiseration and loss of dignity of the world's poor will continue, and the greater inequality will become. Already one-third of the world's workforce is unemployed or underemployed, and worldwide average income has decreased the past decades. The megacities of the global south will become centers of hyper-alienation, and the inevitable result can only be the destruction of the current order, or the destruction of the world. The world's five billion poor are at our door - hear them knock!
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LibraryThing member ParadigmTree
An important and sobering book, but not the easiest read. Each paragraph is filled with so many different stats and numbers that it requires some effort to distill the main points. That said, Davis backs up his points and the book is an eye opening view of our urban world.
LibraryThing member Alhickey1
Mike Davis charts the expected global urbanization explosion over the next 30 years and points out that outside China most of the rest of the world's urban growth will be without industrialization or development, rather a 'peverse' urban boom in spite of stagnant or negative urban economic growth.
LibraryThing member paperloverevolution
I'm not going to lie: this is dry. Really, really dry. I like dry, as a general rule, or at least it doesn't bother me - but this? Man. Maybe it's because the things he covers are so wrenchingly, horribly emotional and in order to get through it with any objectivity he had to cloak himself in
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boringness. At any rate, the information is valuable - maybe critical - and well worth wading through the whole of the text. The glimpse of our urban future that Davis provides is one we need to look at, hard. And I tell you: you will never take your toilet for granted again.
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LibraryThing member godinpain
A hugely important book. This should be read by anybody who tries to talk about globalization.
LibraryThing member Paul_S
It's like reading the first 5 pages of google search results for "slums+marxist". Maybe that's how it was researched.
LibraryThing member gefox
Davis has done us a great service by pulling together global data and case studies to portray a monster that threatens to be the real Terminator, bigger, more deadly and more immediate than the movie version.

Slums are as old as industrialization, which first created them by bringing (driving)
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people from the country to the cities for their labor, without bothering to provide housing, schooling, health care or even adequate space for them to live. Dickens and Engels, Jack London and George Orwell all wrote vividly about them. But since the 1950s, they have been growing exponentially and now have devoured whole cities -- like Kinshasa, which once was a smallish colonial capital with usable streets, breathable air and urban amenities, but now (according to Davis) is an immense extension of hovels with no overall order, no services or infrastructure, and barely enough food and water for its 6 million people. (The Wikipedia article paints a slightly more favorable picture but says 8 million; for confirmation of Davis's description, check out Kinshasa est devenu poubelle (a video about an attempted drive across town) or these BBC photos, Kinshasa 'The Dustbin'.)

Starting with millions of "displaced persons" following World War II, followed by other millions displaced from their small towns and villages by revolutions, civil wars, mammoth construction projects such as the Aswan dam, the partition of the Indian subcontinent, and the environmental degradation of the countryside by mining and other industries, "urban" populations have multiplied even in places without infrastructure or jobs or anything else to draw them. Or police adequate to control them. They overwhelm the urban institutions, "ruralizing" lands on the outskirts and in the interstices of the cities as they establish their own norms, systems of local exploitation, and their own improvised solutions getting food, shelter and safety to survive another day. The process is especially pronounced in Africa (Côte d'Ivoire, Tanzania, Congo-Kinshasa, Gabon, Angola), the Indian subcontinent, and everywhere in the global south, but it's happening in Los Angeles and other cities too. And in the huge colonias of Mexico City, villas miserias of Buenos Aires, and barrios of Caracas, among other places.

Davis is especially hard on the IMF and its "structural adjustment programs" (SAP's), which demanded that poor countries privatize all services in order to qualify for loans, the result being the disappearance of public services and controls. And he is scathingly critical of what he considers neoliberal pipe dreams, that (as the one-time anarchist architect John Turner put it), slums could be the solution, not the problem. That is, with proper guidance, the creative energies of the slum population (building their own housing, for example, and even micro-industries) would boost national development and economic growth, bettering lives for everybody. But no, says Davis, with example after example from case studies, slum populations are so exploited, first by richer forces outside the slum (such as all those Indians who have made themselves wealthy by charging exorbitant rents for wretched housing) and secondly by one another (early squatters charge high rents from later arrivals, for example) that they have no margin to save to improve their housing or much less to grow a stable business.

Another pipe dream that seemed to offer solution without cost has been Hernando De Soto's loudly proclaimed insistence that granting titles of ownership to squatters would release great sums of capital for entrepreneurship. Again using case studies, Davis lists what he calls the "epistemological fallacies" of such arguments. 1, "de Soto's heroic 'micro entrepreneurs' are usually displaced public-sector professionals or laid-off skilled workers," i.e., "entrepreneurs" by necessity, not choice. 2, very few of the working poor are truly self-employed, but renting space or tools -- the rickshaw that they pull, the wheelbarrow they haul, etc. -- from somebody just a little less poor, in a system of endlessly franchised petty exploitation. (Points 3, 4 & 5 are really elaborations of that same point 2.) Then 6, desperation over the real economy turns slum dwellers increasingly to seek semi-magical solutions, such as gambling and pyramid schemes, often with magical invocations to religious spirits. 7, financing by microcredits as in the Grameen Bank, important as it may be to the survival of a few, will never allow sufficient accumulation to help very many people; rather, they've become the "cargo cult" of NGO's, a seemingly low-cost solution that isn't. 8, "increasing competition with the informal sector depletes social capital and dissolves self-help networks and solidarities" -- the poor are fighting against the poor.

So what do we do? Well, according to Davis, we'll have to wait for his next book to find out. Or we can try to do something, like the Grameen Bank loans or Shakira's "Barefoot Foundation," to solve at least a small part of the problem. It may be that the efforts of people like Shakira and the Grameen Bank's Muhammad Yunus will make enough of a difference in enough people's lives in enough places in the world to change the whole slumming dynamic. But even if they don't have such a wide impact, efforts like those and the stairway a bunch of us built in a Caracas slum at least make lives easier for some people for some time. It's not enough, but it's something.
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Original publication date



1844671607 / 9781844671601
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