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234 × 156 mm
320 pages
07 Jul 2017

Slums The History of a Global Injustice Alan Mayne

More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, but a billion of these people reside in neighbourhoods characterized by entrenched disadvantage. These neighbourhoods, known as ‘slums’, are often seen as a debilitating and even subversive presence within society. In reality, however, it is often the host societies and their public policies that are at fault.

In this comprehensive global history, Alan Mayne explores the evolution and meaning of the word ‘slum’, from its origins in London in the early nineteenth century to its use to describe favela communities in the lead up to the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016. The word ‘slum’ has been extensively used for two hundred years to condemn and disperse poor communities. Mounting a case for the word’s elimination from the language of progressive urban social reform, Slums is a must-read book for all those interested in social history and the importance of these vibrant and vital neighbourhoods.

‘Mayne’s reach is impressively wide, ranging confidently over the policies and initiatives of not only the global south (as well as India, he cites evidence from Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria and Brazil) but the contemporary developed world too, where the clearance of areas condemned as obsolete or substandard has returned from time to time to disrupt and scarify the lives of the poor. At the heart of the disruption, is the use of the word “slum” to anathematize the poor and their urban spaces and to justify every sort of intervention, with violence not far beneath the surface.’ – TLS

‘A billion people live in the shadow cities we call slums. Alan Mayne’s trenchant social history traces how perception of them shifted. Victorians saw them as labyrinths or vortices – “topsy-turvy” realms of otherness. Today, they are more likely to be viewed as resilient hubs of innovation. Yet developers’ war on slums has seen no ceasefire. It’s hard to refute Mayne’s estimation: “We invent them to explain to ourselves the ugly traits, the logical incongruities and the social inequalities of modern capitalist cities.”’ – Nature

‘In the new book Slums, Australian academic Mayne argues that the term is so freighted with historical distortions that it should be retired . . . Mayne’s argument is delivered with great heapings of detail, recitations of centuries of policy in Britain, Australia, India, and the United States, and data on the millions displaced in anti-slum campaigns.’ – CityLab

‘More than half the world’s population may live in abject urban poverty but “slum”, Mayne says, “is a fundamentally deceitful construct.” Since the word “slum” was coined in the early 19th century, he says, it has been used as a tool of the wealthy few to marginalize those with less. This book provides an impressive amount of information about communities of the profoundly poor – how they got that way, how they stayed that way, and how governments tried (or didn’t) to fix them.’ – Landscape Architecture

‘More than ever, we need broad syntheses that bridge the specialized literatures in which most of us spend our time. That is one reason why Mayne’s Slums: The History of a Global Injustice is so welcome. Another is that, by whatever name, slums have been a significant element in the modern urban experience, the object of much planning, policy, and writing . . . A complement to Nightingale’s Segregation, it makes principled connections across time and space. Anyone interested in slums should check it out.’ – The Metropole

‘A tonic and rousing critique of the bad freight carried by the concept of “slum”. Although an obvious offender in my own work, I’m entirely convinced by Mayne’s passionate polemic. No more “s” word from me.’ — Mike Davis, author of Planet of Slums

‘That the purportedly poor and marginal insist upon a presence in cities even when faced with seemingly intolerable material conditions is a reality long subjected to dismissals of all kinds. Mayne lacerates these dismissals, this war on the poor, with sweeping historical critique, instead demonstrating how the logics and policies that keep the “poor” unsettled, simultaneously pacified and volatile, constitute a deception, covering over the distorted productivity of inequality, spatial engineering, and the reliance upon those consigned to the margins to regenerate new forms of sociality in face of denigration.’ — Professor AbdouMaliq Simone, Goldsmiths, University of London

‘Alan Mayne is a leading authority on the history of “slums”. In his new book he turns his attention to the repetitions and continuities in society's attitudes and policies towards “slums” worldwide over the past 200 years, from nineteenth-century Britain to twenty-first-century Global South. His challenging, forthright book exposes how our continued use of the word “slum” is misleading, deceitful and downright wrong. His book speaks to historians concerned with the relevance of the past, but more especially to planners and policymakers who have ignored or forgotten the past and papered over the real implications of current urban development policies.’ — Professor Richard Dennis, University College London

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Alan Mayne is Visiting Professor in the Centre for Urban History at the University of Leicester and Adjunct Professor at the University of South Australia. His previous books include The Imagined Slum: Newspaper Representation in Three Cities, 1870–1914 (1993).