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From: Alessandra Cancedda, Italy
Category: Category 2
Date: 07 Apr 2000
Remote Name: 18.104.22.168
Some remarks on the topic of urban actors and combating urban poverty.
a) In dealing with the urban poverty issue in developing countries, there is often the tendency to see just two categories of people: the rich and the poor, or, in more political terms, the ruling elites and the powerless majority. This perspective discourages from seizing new emergent actors in urban societies of the South: small and medium entrepreneurs, traders, professionals, technicians, teachers, and other intellectual workers, etc. If they are successful, these groups are often treated as one with those who perpetuate urban poverty; if the are stricken by economics crises they are put among the "poor", thus being confused with people with much less resources and worse living conditions (e.g. the extreme poor). This is why, rightly, distinctions are starting to be made among different types of poverty, and between poverty and social exclusion. However, the values, intentions, social action of these middle and lower-middle class groups are still little investigated; but their willingness to be involved in poverty eradication (not necessarily for "solidarity", perhaps also because they feel threatened by the presence of poverty) or, on the contrary, their tendency to organise their life in a completely independent way from the extreme poor, can make a difference in the success of urban anti-poverty strategies.
b) A major feature of the Habitat Agenda and of changes in recent urban policies is the acknowledgement of the resourcefulness of the informal sector. Yet, while this phenomenon has been relatively well investigated from the economic perspective, and also from the urban planning one, it has not been such from the sociological point of view: which actors, actions, intentions, value, modes of relationships, etc. are being shaped by the poor - and the not so poor - in the urban peripheries? May we consider the informal sector as a place where distinct forms of social action are produced by a number of different actors, engendering new rules, institutions, representations, networks, forms of power and control over the territory, often very structured ones - despite the term "informal"? Too often these aspects are regarded as a mere residue of traditional rural institutions - e.g. the persistence of kinship ties - and not as emerging, urban and "modern" patterns of social organisation, which must be taken into account as a resource - and sometimes as a problem - for urban governance.
c) In this framework maybe a better understanding of women's widespread and often "invisible" social action could also be reached, enabling to highlight their role, not only in economic production, but also in shaping new rules of social behaviour and social co-existence (cf. the role of women in reconciliation, post-conflict reconstruction, or in the social integration of vulnerable groups). By the way, this action - and women as urban actors - risks to be disregarded if civil society is identified by urban policy makers only with the "NGOs", and not as the whole set of social actors - organized in groups or not - who contribute to producing positive changes in urban life.
Alessandra Cancedda CERFE