- I am proposing to research the urban poor’s place in activism.
- This is because I want to find out why the urban poor are excluded from working- and middle-class discourses about urban inequality and activism.
- In order to help my reader understand how the urban lower-class, working-class, and middle-class engage in activism and why they often operate separately, despite having similar goals and opposition.
In conversation about insurgence and activism in urban spaces, marginalized and impoverished groups are often at the forefront of discussion. Their place in activism is highlighted as the urban poor has often been observed as much more likely to participate in “problem-solving actions.”These groups’ activism is driven by “economic deprivation and uncertain livelihoods,” and is necessary for working towards their own survival.Corruption and discrimination executed by the rich and power have continually increased income inequality, and therefore forced the urban subaltern into a vulnerable states of lacking housing, food, safety, and other basic needs.
Nevertheless, when considering Global South cities where those in poverty make up significant amounts of the population, it is difficult to group all of the urban poor together. There exists the urban subaltern, those who are dwell in slums and survive from informal labor, as well as what John Harriss refers to as the working class, who live in poverty, but not to the extent of the subaltern.Additionally, there is a middle class presence who represent those who are better off than most, but do not possess the majority of the nation’s wealth. All three of these groups, to different extents, experience the repercussions of corruption and discrimination from the rich and powerful, exhibiting something of a common opposition. Yet, these groups have time after time been unable to truly unite over an issue. Instead, the differences between them cause exclusion from their discourses; most commonly, the urban poor classes are excluded from middle-class efforts to make change. When there is access to mobilizing the majority of the population on a common cause, why do these classes still choose their differences, and lessen their strength?
This exclusion has been commented on greatly by scholars within urban studies. However, their beliefs for these gaps differ. Ruchi Chaturvedi wrote extensively regarding the separation of what he refers to as the urban “underclass,” or subaltern, from the “informal proletariat,” or urban poor as a whole.He attributes the exclusion of the underclass to their character as activists; due to their “alienation from the state,” they are more likely to use louder, more destructive, and more illegal methods to convey their message.The following picture of Nigerian artist, Jelili Atiku, protesting during the 2012 Occupy Nigeria movement emphasizes this point; he marches with many signs attached to him reading different cries for help while bystanders take pictures with their cell phones.
Other scholars argue that exclusion arises from more deep-rooted, psychological reasoning, often connected to postcolonial effects. Peter Marris examined the subaltern reaction to slum clearance efforts in Lagos in 1958 and 1959, in which working- and middle-class Nigerians struggled to understand why clearing slums, which are “amongst the most obtrusive of social evils,” was devastating for the Lagos subaltern.The difference laid in social values; the subaltern valued family and community above all, and the destruction of the slums divided their close-knit communities with distance.In constrast, Dick Hoerder’s autobiographical article regarding intimate subalternism reflects on the effects of internalized classism, suggesting counterintuitive exclusivity is a result of perpetuating such classism.
Why are the urban poor excluded from middle-class discourses about activism and inequality?
Why, despite a unified presence in the petrol strike, was Lagos’ urban poor ultimately excluded from middle-class discourses about inequality in the 2012 Occupy Nigeria protest?
John Harriss. “Middle-Class Activism and the Politics of the Informal Working Class: A Perspective on Class Relations and Civil Society in Indian Cities,” Critical Asian Studies, Vol 38, Issue 4, 451.
Ruchi Chaturvedi. “Agentive Capacities, Democratic Possibilities, and the Urban Poor: Rethinking Recent Popular Protests in West Africa,” International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society 29, no. 3, 315.