Contours of the Neoliberal City: fragmentation, frontier geographies, and the new circularity

By Nasser Abourahme

“The slum in and of itself creates a different kind of governmentality;
AlSayyad and Roy point out that the apparently unregulated practices of
squatting are in fact a distinct form of regulation, “a set of tactics
that recreate informality as governmentality” [2006: 8]. This
informality operates through the constant negotiability of value (as
opposed to the fixing of value that characterises formality) and can be
seen as an expression of the sovereign power to establish the state of
exception – i.e. in the sense that the legal and planning apparatus of
the state enact suspension and define what is informal and what is not.
Informal squatting, then, is in fact a highly regulated practice with
distinct forms of governance and particular forms of negotiated
citizenship. This negotiation does not only, or even necessarily,
involve state actors: “non-state actors have emerged as the de facto
state in informal settlements in various world-regions” [ibid: 10].
Davis [2004] points to the role religious groups play in providing
urban services in slums across cities in the global South; in parts of
Cairo and other Arab cities Islamic groups provide almost all social
services as well as popular leaders, in Mumbai the Hindu
fundamentalists Shiv Sena are involved in acquiring and transferring
habitable land and in Latin American slums Pentecostalism has emerged
as the “main logic of governance and politics” [Alsayyad and Roy 2006:
11; Davis 2004]. Even when religious groups are not involved slums
develop their own distinct politics, regimes of rule and institutional
dynamics. Balbo highlights the example of Villa el Salvador, a famous
barriada of Lima “where the 300,000 residents have given themselves a
set of norms and laws of local bosses over which the state has hardly
any control” [1993: 25]. In slums the state, religious associations,
NGOs can all compete as different territorialized forms of association
and patronage [Alsayyad and Roy 2004: 12].
Gated communities embody
a similarly “distinctive territorialisation of citizenship” or a new
“spatial governmentality” [ibid: 6]. Key here is the fact these
enclaves are usually governed by private bodies as exemplified in
‘community associations’ or ‘common interest developments’. Both
involve “reciprocal rights and obligations enforced by a private
governing body” [ibid]; they are “contractual associations that deliver
some form of neighbourhood-level governance in the forms of regulations
and local civic good and services on the basis of assessments (fees)
collected from members” [Webster et al 2002: 315]. In this sense gated
communities, with their internal regulations and codes, represent new
forms of private government in which “contract law is the supreme
authority; property values are the foundation of community life; and
exclusion is the foundation of social organisation” [AlSayyad and Roy
2006: 6]. As such they are more than just the ‘effects’ of neoliberal
urban reform but active “technologies of subjectivation, sovereignty
and spatiality” [ibid]. Or as Jeremy Seabrook puts in a nicely sardonic
polemic: in “gilded captivity” Third World Elites “cease to be citizens
of their own countries and become nomads belonging to, and owing
allegiance to, a superterrestrial topography of money; they become
patriots of wealth, nationalists of an elusive and golden nowhere”
[cited in Davis 2006: 120].
Slums and gated communities, thus, can be read as part of a process
that carves up the city into different orders of citizenship in which
the “logic of patronage becomes the logic of rule” [ibid: 11-12].
Neither slum nor gated community fall wholly under the domain of
nation-state regulation; they both straddle a fuzzy inside-outside

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