From Self-Help Housing to Sustainable Settlement: Capitalist Development and Urban Plkanning in Lusaka, Zambia

By Kerr, Derek | Capital & Class, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

From Self-Help Housing to Sustainable Settlement: Capitalist Development and Urban Plkanning in Lusaka, Zambia


Kerr, Derek, Capital & Class


From Self-Help Housing to Sustainable Settlement: Capitalist Development and Urban Plkanning in Lusaka, Zambia Avebury, Aldershot, 1997, pp.377. ISBN 1-85972-425-6 (hbk)49.95 The major thrust of self-help housing began in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the crisis of urban development in the so-called Third World. State aided self-help housing then received substantial promotion in the early 1970s through the engagement of the World Bank which has since remained the largest financing agency in this sector. These developments have given rise to a considerable literature on, and debates over, the practice, merits and limits of selfhelp housing. The above book by John Tait offers a stimulating contribution in this respect through a critique of the literature and by providing an interesting case study of urbanisation in Zambia. In his analysis of self-help housing Tait `proposes a concept that revives and retains the analytical merits of an approach critical of capitalist development, but reconceives it as an instrument for appropriate planning' (p.xv). This 'concept' could be considered as marking a potential limit to Tait's analysis. That is, it suggests that he wishes to draw upon the critique of capitalism in order to derive planning tools that will address its worst excesses while preserving its capitalist form. The implications of this 'limit' appear from time to time throughout the book.

Chapter 1 outlines the self-help housing debate. According to the publications of Turner and his followers in the 1960s and '70s (which were influential in establishing the World Bank's policy stance), the selfhelp discussion was very much oriented to the pure material and physical aspects of squatter housing and slum-settlements. For them, self help was seen as a vital part of a new spontaneous, self-determined, neighbourhood based and non-anonymous ways of living. This conceptualisation was challenged by writers such as Pradilla who analysed self-help housing in terms of Marx's theory of labour-power reproduction. While Tait is sympathetic to the latter approach, he argues (in chapter 2) that the notion of the reproduction of labour-power is inappropriate in third world countries because of the growing importance of the informal sector which exists alongside of, and is exploited by, capitalism. Self-help housing becomes an informal means of delivery of land, property and infrastructure as well as providing the socio-spatial environment required for the function of informal sector activities. Tait continues his critique of the literature in chapter 3 for its failure `to analyse Third World urbanisation in terms of its contradictory tendencies and dysfunctions pertaining to the territorial formation of peripheral capitalism' (p.54). By this he means that capitalist penetration of Third World societies remains a highly uneven and selective process. In particular it has distorted the rural/urban demographic balance leading to an urbanisation pattern disjunctive from the capacity of the urban economy to absorb all its population into wage work and urban provision systems.

Chapter 4 is devoted to reincorporating these conclusions into what Tait believes to be a more adequate framework of the political economy of housing. This framework recognises the importance of the informal sector and defines it in terms of petty commodity production. In its newly proposed peripheral form it appears not only as a sphere of production but also as a relation of production sustained by collective workers who are part of a household reproductive unit that maintains specific forms of redistribution among its members. Tait also argues that this relationship is actively reproduced within the capitalist peripheral growth model and is dependent on the provision of self-help housing. Here the limits of Tait's approach come to light as he suggests that an appropriate understanding of contemporary capitalist development can be used to justify self-help housing for the low-income groups. …

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