African Slums: Constructing Democracy in Unexpected Places

Friday, February 12, 2016: 8:00 AM-9:30 AM
Hoover (Marriott Wardman Park)
Jeffrey Paller, Bates College, Lewiston, ME
This paper introduces the concept of settlement as a way to explain differences in governance and development across poor urban communities. I show how conventional classifications of slums based on observable measures and administrative boundaries lack historical and local context. Instead, I suggest that the informal institution of settlement—how residents and host populations answer the question “who settled first, and how”— shapes the governance of public services; whether leaders serve private, club, or the public interest; and the daily practices that residents use to hold their leaders accountable. Formal institutional rules and regulations—like political recognition and legal status—are embedded in unofficial, grassroots political struggles that are the outcomes of vibrant collective action. Evidence from urban Ghana is presented to show how access and security of housing differs across these settlement patterns.