Governing Global Slums: The Biopolitics of Target 11

By Tim Di Muzio

“The technologies of the self found in global slums aim to cultivate the capacities of the poor and range from educating the self about sanitation and hygiene to undertaking skills training and learning to be responsible debtors, savers, and entrepreneurs. For instance, one of the most widespread modes of subjectification in informal settlements is entrepreneurial. Associated with the microcredit revolution, this approach encourages poor women and men to give their lives an entrepreneurial form as a way of generating income and securing the livelihood of their household. Although microcredit, over its thirty-five-year history as an antipoverty strategy, has been heralded as a panacea for people living in deep poverty—and one of its key spokespersons, founder of the Grameen Bank Muhammad Yunus, won the Noble Peace Prize—there has been little evidence of microlending’s success. What is certain is that microlending schemes help privatize and individualize peoples’ responsibility for earning a livelihood, thus lessening their dependence on the state or subnational governments. In this way, encouraging the poor to participate in their own survival strategies by accumulating personal debt and creating small businesses displaces any sense that poverty and unemployment may be structural or that the state has any responsibility for collective welfare.”


“The built environments of global slums are a testament to the ongoing dispossession of people around the world and to a more commodified, liberalized, and marketized world order facilitated by neoliberal policies. Thus,any discussion of biopolitical campaigns must take care to recognize how these interventions to improve life are informed and ultimately constrained by neoliberal policies and the forms of capital accumulation they are meant to encourage and secure. In some senses, this twenty-first-century indictment of neoliberalism is reminiscent of Karl Polanyi’s condemnation of an earlier period of economic liberalism. Polanyi argued that a rationality of rule centered on the belief in free markets, and the price mechanism implied a “stark utopia” where the natural and human substance of society would inevitably be annihilated if society did not take measures to protect itself. For Polanyi, this stark utopia was averted only after World War II, when governments abandoned economic liberalism in favor of social planning and collective welfare schemes. The growth and proliferation of global slums could be taken as both the spatial instantiation of this stark utopia and the apartheid of life chances that has accompanied neoliberalism. The scale of this problem is tremendous and represents one of the key governance challenges of the twenty-first century—one that seems increasingly unable to be met without a radical turn away from neoliberal policies and an overreliance on nongovernmental and community-based organizations.”

Read if full at Global Governance

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