I think I’m going to start doing regular posts about what I am currently reading. This presupposes that any of the 7 of you out there who read this blog care about what I’m reading *g*, but it’s also partially because as an academic reference librarian I see LOTS AND LOTS of book reviews and often come across some very interesting items that I think deserve some web promotion (hey, nice run-on sentence!).
Saturday I started on this:
Urban theorist Davis takes a global approach to documenting the astonishing depth of squalid poverty that dominates the lives of the planet’s increasingly urban population, detailing poor urban communities from Cape Town and Caracas to Casablanca and Khartoum. Davis argues health, justice and social issues associated with gargantuan slums (the largest, in Mexico City, has an estimated population of 4 million) get overlooked in world politics: “The demonizing rhetorics of the various international ‘wars’ on terrorism, drugs, and crime are so much semantic apartheid: they construct epistemological walls around gecekondus, favelas, and chawls that disable any honest debate about the daily violence of economic exclusion.” Though Davis focuses on individual communities, he presents statistics showing the skyrocketing population and number of “megaslums” (informally, “stinking mountains of shit” or, formally, “when shanty-towns and squatter communities merge in continuous belts of informal housing and poverty, usually on the urban periphery”) since the 1960s. Layered over the hard numbers are a fascinating grid of specific area studies and sub-topics ranging from how the Olympics has spurred the forceful relocation of thousands (and, sometimes, hundreds of thousands) of the urban poor, to the conversion of formerly second world countries to third world status. Davis paints a bleak picture of the upward trend in urbanization and maintains a stark outlook for slum-dwellers’ futures.
It’s interesting, and more than a little frightening. If you look at how fast urban populations are growing, and how this growth largely has NOTHING to do with modernization or income increases, you start to get a sense for how much of the world lives in a fashion of which I, as an upper middle class American, have exactly ZERO knowledge or understanding. While I was intellectually aware of this, I hadn’t given it any actual thought – now I am starting to do so.