The Cultural Invention of the “Shanty Town”

“Shanty towns” are not a concrete physical human construction but a concept. What they do have as a physical reality are a multitude of physical manifestations of poverty. As a consequence of the logics of capitalism, the poor, and especially the most disadvantaged among them, must live in substandard shelters, because these particular commodities, which Western civilization formerly called standard “housing,” are not affordable to their possibilities of income. Those substandard shelters can be isolated or grouped forming villages or entire cities, they can be built with bricks or with garbage, they can be rented or can be a private property, they can be legal or squattered, they can be permanent or transitory. The unification of this plural universe under the name of “shanty towns” is an ideological operation, the first step to incorporate it to our system of knowledge/control. In absolute terms these elementary shelters continues to grow in such a big dimension it has been said that in the near future we will live in a “planet of slums” (M. Davis). Our hypothesis is simple: if we want seriously tackle this matter we need new forms to consider it, and a first step in this direction may be the dismantling of this ideological operation through the study of its historical process of invention.

We will examine the controversies about its characterization, its diverse historical manifestations, the way it was treated by different institutions and ideologies, and their representations by the arts.

The meetings will have an introduction by the professor, and students will debate the readings selected for each occasion.

The evaluation will appreciate the dedication and quality of the participation of the students in the Seminar (50%) and in the writing of a paper on one topic selected by each one of the participants (50%).