Academic journal article Global Governance

Governing Global Slums: The Biopolitics of Target 11

Academic journal article Global Governance

Governing Global Slums: The Biopolitics of Target 11

Article excerpt

Recent literature has focused on the ways in which civil society organizations are contributing to practices of global governance in an era of neo-liberalism. As UN Habitat has pointed out, what has also coincided with the shift to neoliberalism is the proliferation and growth of global slums. As slums have become an increasingly widespread form of human settlement, a global campaign to improve the life of slum dwellers has emerged under the Millennium Development Goals. In this article, I argue that this project can be conceived of as a biopolitical campaign where nongovernmental and community-based organizations are viewed as a kind of panacea for the problem of slums. This view is misguided given the scale of the problem and the apartheid of life chances that has accompanied neoliberalism. KEY WORDS: Governance, neoliberalism, slums, nongovernmental organizations, community-based organizations, biopolitics.

Recent literature has focused on the ways in which private authorities in the "third sector" are both reshaping and contributing to practices of global liberal governance and development. (1) In part, this growing research agenda can be attributed to the massive growth and proliferation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs) during the last decades of the twentieth century, the diversity of their concerns, and the willingness of other actors to view them as legitimate forms of authority. Although there is debate over the exact reasons for the growth of these organizations, there seems to be a general consensus that their importance in the governance process has coincided with the worldwide neoliberal revolution in economic policy and the privileging of polyarchical forms of democracy. (2) As UN Habitat has pointed out, what has also coincided with the shift to neoliberalism and democracy promotion is the proliferation and growth of global slums. (3)

As slums have become an increasingly widespread form of human settlement, a complex nexus of multilevel governance initiatives has developed to combat the dismal life conditions manifest in slums. (4) The agents involved in slum interventions range from supranational institutions such as UN Habitat and the World Bank to local governments, NGOs, and CBOs. (5) Although any study concerning the governance of slums should take care to realize that interventions are often multifaceted, the current governance agenda appears to coalesce around Goal 7, Target 11 of the Millennium Development Goals--"the world's targets for dramatically reducing extreme poverty in its many dimensions by 2015." (6) Under Goal 7, which emphasizes environmental sustainability, Target 11 directs supranational institutions, national and local governments, and civil society organizations to "achieve significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers, by 2020." (7) Initially, this may sound like a sufficiently ambitious goal until one realizes that about 1 billion people on the planet currently live in informal settlements where the healthy, productive, and sustainable reproduction of social life is under constant threat. The modesty of this goal is further compounded by the fact that the planet's slum inhabitants are projected to swell to well beyond 1 billion if current patterns of uneven development and income inequality persist.

While this goal may appear to some to be a miserly attempt to combat the problem of global slums, I argue in this article that it is more important to understand the governance of global slums as an increasingly important dimension of the Western biopolitical project to enhance and optimize the life chances of the "global poor." Within this project, slum dwellers are considered a particular subset of the global poor, primarily distinguished by their forms of shelter, the deprivations they experience, and their exclusion from the formal economy. However, although slum residents represent an increasingly important target population for the agents of global liberal governance and their biopolitical imperatives to improve life, their strategic interventions are likely to fail in an age where neoliberal dogma continues to dominate the policy agenda of governments and supranational institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the World Trade Organization (WTO). …

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