Assumptions, representations and realities

One of the things that stuck with me most from yesterdays pre-fieldtrip presentations were the comments on assumptions made. It sounds obvious that one of the challenges is to read and gather information openly, without making assumptions or judgements and equally, once we are in Bangkok, to observe, ask and listen in the same way. Despite this assumptions have come up as well as simplifications of the complexities and contradictions we are looking at and their changes over time. This would be in the way of learning about the reality of our case or making meaningful contributions as practitioners. Luckily the opposite is the opportunity of this trip.

In one of the articles on Bangkok Marc Askew uses the example of the largest slum in Bangkok, Khlong Toei, to describe the layered and dynamic framework in which the people of Khlong Toei negotiate space and make the city and counters simplistic representations of slum communities which are, as he sais, generated by academics, government agencies and NGOs in the context of ideological contexts and conflicts. He mentions some of the dominant stereotypes related to the idea of what communities or not-communities are in low-income settlements: “Cooperative and equally poor low-income households joined together in the task of collective and sustained betterment for income and environmental improvement, joined by NGO partners” or “individualistic opportunists, who, like their urban middle-class counterparts, buy and sell land resources for profit in the marketplace” or “tightly integrated ‘face-to-face’ society, characterised by bonds of kinship, mutual friendship and close emotional links to the local area”. Instead they are “multilayered economic, social and spatial formations, spaces of survival, accumulation, status and inequality”. (Marc Askew, 2002)

At a global scale but also in the context of representing urban informality Ananya Roy argues that “(…) urban informality has come to be studied and even celebrated in transnational circuits (…). Emphasizing the double nature of representation – that it is at once a portrait and a proxy – she [Roy] shows how the aesthetic framing of the informal sector silences the voices and experiences of informal dwellers and workers. Roy argues that this aestheticisation of poverty is a transnational transaction, one where a First World gaze sees in Third World poverty hope, entrepreneurship, and genius. Against such forms of knowledge and representation, she calls for a critical transnationalism, ‘one given to learning the paradoxes and contradictions of place-based policy (…).’“ (AlSayyad, 2004, p.24)

With this in mind tomorrow will zoom into the reality of the Baan Mangkong program and its specific sites, eradicate assumptions, and find out more about how the learning from local experience, knowledge and strategies that are applied in the informal production of Bangkoks urban settlements have been integrated in CODIs responses to urban poverty reduction.

Askew, M., 2002. ‘Genealogy of the slum – Pragmatism, politics and locality’ in Bangkok: Place, Practice and Representation, Routledge, London 2002, p.139-169.

AlSayyad, N., 2004. ‘Urban informality as a “New” way of life’ in Urban Informality (ed. Roy, A., Alsayyad, N.), Lexington Books, p.7-30.

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