Book Report: Davis, Mike. Planet of Slums. London, UK: Verso Press, 2006.
The publication offers an in-depth reflection on the nature of the squalid living conditions evidenced in urban settlements around the world. Davis parallels his discussion to the United Nations estimations with regard to the rising level of poverty, mostly in the developing nations, with the South region supporting at least one billion individuals in slum settlements. Interestingly, Davis notes that current urbanization has undergone evolution evidenced by diminished industrialization and dismal socioeconomic standards that were often associated with rural regions. The majority of urban dwellers are supported in informal employments that offer low salaries and wages, consequently reducing the consumers spending power. Informal settlements being quite affordable to this form of urban dweller have gained popularity among the masses leading to enhanced slum sprawls in urban regions. Davis additionally notes that, with the high level of diversity created in this populace, religious, tribal and politically oriented factions have rivaled each other in the bid to acquire supporters for their endeavors.
Case studies evidencing religious interests in the publication are illustrated by the Islamic movement in the Cairo and Casablanca, Hindu interests in Bombay and Pentecostal influences in Rio de Janeiro and Kinshasa. Politically instigated pressure groups are evidenced by street criminal groups in San Salvador and Cape Town, while radical activists bent on revolutionary endeavors have been evidenced by political groups in La Paz and Caracas. The prevalent theme in the publication as forwarded by Davis holds the ground that slum growth is a reflection of institutional malfunctions, fraudulent state governance and the Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) instituted by the International Monetary Fund to allocate mass wealth from the needy to the affluent. Solutions to these problems can only be acquired by reversing the capitalistic tendencies in today’s cultures.
The first notable idea presented in the publication offers a causal link between SAPs and the informal idea of urban growth marked by slum settlements in the third world nations. Urban growth in the 19th and preceding half of the 20th century as noted in European nations and America conformed to the classical view that aligned urbanization with socioeconomic wellbeing. Within the identified period, urbanization was initiated with similar elements and the results followed a predetermined rubric enforced the classical theory postulations which “believed that the great cities of the future would follow in the industrializing footsteps of Manchester, Berlin and Chicago,” (Davis 16). Davis notes that the given assertion had been strengthened by the successful institution of cities like Sao Paolo, Guangzhou, Los Angeles and Ciudad Juarez among others within the provided premise. China in the 1970s was ranked as a developing nation and this was revolutionized by the mass institution of industries in the nation’s urban regions for economic welfare enhancement. With the creation of job opportunities, labor mobility was greatly multiplied with at least two hundred million Chinese dwellers migrating into urban regions.
The housing facilities in the urban regions were only able to support a meager four million individuals with the rest forced to obtain alternative shelters. The labor supply evidenced in China surpassed the demand that had been created and consequently, the resource availability and affordability created an advantage for the production companies. Korea and Taiwan have undergone a similar industrial expansion as China, and the low production overhead have acted as a comparative advantage against global competitors within the export bracket. With the level of national inflows increasing in the identified nations, the socioeconomic welfare is also enhanced. The SAPs as economic tools proposed by monetary authorities like the World Bank aimed at eliminating the dualistic nature of the third world economies, majorly dominated by the agricultural sector. This weakens the industrial component as raw materials have to acquire value addition from industrialized nations and hence the dismal economic growth.
SAPs were introduced in the 1980s in cities like Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Bombay, and the sub Saharan creating demand and labor mobility was enhanced. Davis notes that the main inhibitor to the success of these programs was the unremitting “exodus of surplus rural labor to urban slums even as cities ceased to be job machines” (15). The debts created by the advanced loans acted as the control instruments used by the developed nations in regulating the affected states decision-making processes. One notable control policy was the market deregulation that supported economic liberalization and consequently the inclusion of unfair competition to the infant peasant organizations and hence their collapse. The result therefore instituted low socioeconomic wellbeing than the former situation, and consequently, increased poverty levels in individual and national level as wealth transfer was realized from underprivileged to rich nations.
The second idea proposed reviews the various strategies taken by political factions in utilizing slum dwellers on their political ventures. Slum dwellers are manipulative instruments for political power in developing nations. Mumbai has the highest number of street families amongst the developing nations with a third of the given population being evictees of informal structures due to lack of rental fees. Street families however are not excluded from exploitation as the scenario marked in India and the Philippines where fees have to be paid to police officers or city moguls before permission can be accorded. Note that this does not guarantee the safety of the family streets. Such individuals support the growth of slums for their monetary functions and would rather inhibit socioeconomic programs aimed at alleviating the same to ensure continuity to their capitalistic tendencies. Politically stable individuals offer protection to these exploitative groups as they acquire monetary gains from the dealings. A similar pattern is noted with the squatting system, which is defined as the illegal possession of a territory for purposes of temporary settlement.
Residents in such a system are “coerced to pay considerable bribes to politicians, gangsters, or police to gain access to sites, and they may continue to pay such informal ‘rents’ in money and/or votes for years” (Davis 38). Politicians tend to be deceptive in their relations with the poor and tend to resort to media instruments for the creation of leading stories to create a higher voting margin. Additionally to the acquired payments, politicians tend to create scandals in which squatters are forcefully evicted by police officers for them to have a timely intervention that accrues residential support, as the action tends to be associated with a caring attitude. Squatting has been a strong political instrument in Cairo, Istanbul, South Africa and Caracas among other regions. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) as in the case of Angola, Kenya, Sudan, Zaire, Colombia and Tanzania are also employed as political instruments by state leaders especially for the acquisition of voting support. Although IDP dwellers are not coerced to offer bribes for settlements, their relocation is made in strategic places where they are exploited for cheap labor as payment for their settlement regions. The employment accorded to such groups is used to support business establishments owned by these politicians or other rich individuals for higher material gain. This parallels the former idea in which the possessions of the poor individuals are transferred to the rich under a neo-capitalistic structure.
Evaluation of Strengths and Weaknesses
The initial strength noted in the publication is the precision in which the author presents the main ideas. The publication being two hundred and twenty eight pages long offers a rather wide scope into the information given but the presentation augers well with the readers to encourage reading. The publication is written with a medium font and this creates the illusion that due to the size the information given is far less than the purported number of pages. The information is divided for easier reading using chapters and alternating paragraph formats that overcome the issue of monotony that may be created in the text. Graphs and tables act as breaks in the prose presentation to create variety for the reader and overcome the aspect of monotony. The chapters are also broken down into subtopics for easy navigation purposes to the readers. The subtopics also act as miniature thesis statements to ensure that the reader does not veer from the given area of discussion in a rather large topic. Consequently, the author’s objectives are easily addressed in the publication overcoming the problem of untackled questions or perspectives.
An array of research materials are used in the book ranging from books, magazines, peer-reviewed articles, statistic records and research findings that widen the scope of research and the information accuracy. In actuality, at least seven hundred footnotes have been used in the publication an indication of the wide nature of the research conducted by Davis towards the ideas presented. The sources are all acquired form credible sites like the United Nations statistics and research studies, International Monetary Fund and World Band records. Books and journals are treated as credible sources and this enhances the accuracy accorded to the publication. However, a number of weaknesses are also noted. First, the book offers a review of existing information from the various resources applied and therefore offers only existing knowledge with no new data. Additionally, only secondary sources are used in the book infusing an element of imbalance emanating from the mechanistic view of reporting indentified facts. Reports use a journalistic tone and a third-person narration in the document and this hinders the reader’s sense of identity with the text. Primary sources like interviews impart emotion that is very appealing to the target audience as it enhances the element of empathy.
The book also suffers personal bias majorly from the fact that it has been written by one author increasing the probability to favoritism with regard to the tackled issue. This can be noted from the main discussion as Davis bases his argument that slums are majorly caused by the SAP program yet he overlooks other causative agents such as demographic aspects like high population growth. Although he uses various theoretical tools, they all support his skewed perspective on the SAPs. The issue of biasness is usually overcome by having multiple authors for enhanced idea presentation that counters the idea of self-perspectives or the use of an editorial team that ensures elimination of such issues during the editing process. It is less costly in terms of publishing overheads and time allocations in dealing with errors during the book development process than dealing with the error once the publication process has been completed. The last weakness noted is the inconclusive nature of the publication. Davis discusses the problem of slum growth in various nations and the implication that his has on the social and economic institutions in the given regions. He offers an additional discussion on the causes that have led to this expansion yet no single solution has been formulated to deal with the same. This latter aspect hampers the logical aspect of the publication with the main writing rubric entailing problem identification, issue development, subject analysis and recommendations to offer further direction to future studies and the solutions to overcome the problem.
Davis, Mike. Planet of Slums. London, UK: Verso Press, 2006. Print.
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