Lessons from the urban poor: Collective action and the rethinking of development

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Introduction The crisis of development outlined in this book calls out for a need to change the functioning of society, away from a materialist and individual orientation. Drawing from the experience of organized groups of the urban poor in the Global South, this chapter identifies potentially transferable lessons for organizing that can break through the social structures that prevent alternative - collaborative, ecologically sound and egalitarian - modes of development from flourishing. Empirical analysis has a gendered focus, highlighting the potential for an alternative value system that strengthens and extends collective identity and action. I argue, in the presentation of this example, that addressing climate change requires new forms of relations both between citizens and between citizens and the state. The intention is not to suggest that the experiences expanded on below offer a simple solution that can easily be replicated but, rather, that they demonstrate what is possible. While these initiatives have yet to demonstrate their relevance at an appropriate scale to the hundreds of millions who are in need (although their scale regularly involves tens of thousands at the city scale), results to date suggest that it is important to understand these experiences and that they offer potential of interest to those concerned with social justice, poverty reduction, and inclusive and equitable development. These methodologies have emerged in the absence of alternatives. The realities for the estimated 900 million low-income residents living in informal settlements demonstrate a serious failure of development. Market wage rates for the unskilled are very low and rarely enable the accumulation of assets and income security. Market outcomes for shelter and basic services are lacking in many respects. As shown by the scale of informal settlements, the state is unwilling and/or unable to provide secure tenure or access to even the most basic of services. Clientelist political relations dominate, with few state resources for most urban poor households. Ideological solutions have rarely secured significant and substantive change for many, even when they have achieved changes in the political complexion of the state. As a result of such neglect and abuse, leaders in informal settlements have coalesced around alternatives that offer ways to develop inclusive and pro-poor development options.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationClimate Change and the Crisis of Capitalism
Subtitle of host publicationA Chance to Reclaim Self, Society and Nature
EditorsMark Pelling, David Manuel, Navarrete And
PublisherTaylor & Francis
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781136507687
ISBN (Print)9780203146118
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2012


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