More than half of the world’s population now lives in urban areas, and a billion of these urban dwellers reside in neighborhoods of entrenched disadvantage—neighborhoods that are characterized as slums. Slums are often seen as a debilitating and even subversive presence within society. In reality, though, it is public policies that are often at fault, not the people who live in these neighborhoods.
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 as a slur against the favela communities in the lead-up to the Rio Olympics in 2016. Mayne shows how the word slum has been extensively used for two hundred years to condemn and disparage poor communities, with the result that these agendas are now indivisible from the word’s essence. He probes beyond the stereotypes of deviance, social disorganization, inertia, and degraded environments to explore the spatial coherence, collective sense of community, and effective social organization of poor and marginalized neighborhoods over the last two centuries.
In 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 the world’s vibrant and vital neighborhoods.