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Fractured Cities: Social Exclusion, Urban Violence and Contested Spaces in Latin America

Fractured Cities: Social Exclusion, Urban Violence and Contested Spaces in Latin America

by Kees Koonings, Dirk Kruijt


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781842777312
Publisher: Zed Books
Publication date: 02/20/2007
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.18(h) x (d)

About the Author

Kees Koonings is associate professor of development studies on the Faculty of Social Sciences at Utrecht University and professor of Brazilian studies at the University of Amsterdam. 

Dirk Kruijt is professor of development studies in the Faculty of Social Sciences of Utrecht University.

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Fractured Cities

Social Exclusion, Urban Violence and Contested Spaces in Latin America

By Kees Koonings, Dirk Kruijt

Zed Books Ltd

Copyright © 2007 Kees Koonings and Dirk Kruijt
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84813-135-4


Fractured cities, second-class citizenship and urban violence


Against the background of painful economic adjustment, persistent social inequality and uncertain democratic consolidation, the problem of urban violence in Latin America has been the subject of a growing number of empirical studies and conceptual debates in recent years. These scholarly activities in turn link up with growing public and political concern about poverty, inequality and violence in a region in which almost 75 per cent of the population live in cities.

The long-term background to these phenomena is the rapid demographic expansion of Latin American cities, especially during the second half of the last century, in combination with the limited absorption capacity of the urban labour markets and the inability of local governments to provide basic public services. This has led to the growth of urban poverty, initially seen in terms of 'marginality', implying its atypical and temporary nature. From the 1970s onwards, poverty and inequality were recognized as persistent phenomena and came to be studied as part of broader structures of socio-economic heterogeneity, but also from the perspective of social exclusion and survival strategies beyond the realm of formal markets and institutions (Perlman 1976). Since the 1980s, informality has been one of the key terms with which to designate the complex configuration of livelihood, social relations and identity construction in the poor parts of Latin American cities. Especially in the so-called mega-cities (but also in smaller national capitals and secondary cities), informality and social exclusion defined an urban society that was increasingly separated, spatially, socially and culturally, from the (lower and upper) middle-class city of formal employment, public services and law enforcement (Portes 1989).

These patterns of exclusion have deepened over the past two decades. Across Latin America urban poverty is persistent; urban crime and violence are on the rise; the effective presence of state authorities is minimal and the rule of law has changed into its antithesis. Within this context, urban denizens face violence and fear. The absence or failure of governance (especially the enforcement and protection of citizens' security) opens the way for a variety of armed actors and violence brokers who carve out alternative, informal spheres of power on the basis of coercion. The result is in many cases a fragmented, ambivalent and hybrid cityscape with varying manifestations of the complex of poverty, exclusion, coercion, violence and fear.

In this chapter, we will discuss the principal issues at stake. First we will review the development of urban poverty, informality and social exclusion in Latin America during the past decades. Then we will briefly enter the conceptual debate on social exclusion, (in)security and the so-called 'new violence'. Subsequently we will trace the outlines and types of contemporary urban violence, the armed actors involved and the consequences in terms of the failure of the rule of law and governance. We will then note the concomitant rise of parallel power structures (Leeds 1996) that can be regarded as informal modes of control and coercion in Latin American cities. We will address the question of how these patterns of coercion and violence affect community organizations, civil society and politics, both at the grass roots and at broader levels of society.

Urban poverty, desborde popular and the erosion of the formal social order

Second-class citizenship in Latin America has been associated, traditionally, with the indigenous populations, the underdeveloped rural hinterland and the fragmented land tenure of the comunidades indígenas. In colonial times, the encomienda, the mita and the hacienda system had tied the Mexican, Central American and Andean conquered ethnicities to their criollo landlord and peninsular governors. With good reason, De la Peña (1980) typified the post-colonial descendants, the indigenous and rural underprivileged, as 'heirs of promises': promises of integration in the national community, promises of citizenship without citizens' rights and duties (Bastos 1998: 100-101). For that reason Solares (1992: 50) typified Guatemala as 'a state without being a nation'. And for the same reason Flores Galindo (1994: 213) characterized Peru, with its political coexistence of mestizos and indios, as 'a republic without citizens'.

In the second half of the twentieth century, however, the pattern of segregation, restriction, poverty and de facto second-class citizenship acquired an urban face. In another publication, on the dynamics of urban poverty, informality and social exclusion in Latin America (Kruijt, Sojo and Grynszpan 2002), we introduced the notion of 'informal citizenship', the precarious implantation of (urban) second-class citizenship, as the long-term result of the mainstream model of economic reforms in the 1980s and 1990s. This instability is related to a trans-generational process of informalization and social exclusion in the urban, and more precisely the metropolitan, environments, nourished by a continuous migration stream from the rural hinterland which started in the 1950s and 1960s in most of the countries of Latin America and the larger island states of the Caribbean. Between 1950 and 1980, the share of Latin America's informal economy grew steadily, only to accelerate in the 1980s and 1990 (Galli and Kucera 2003: 24–6). Latin America has thus become the continent in which in most of its countries a significant segment of the population is, at once, poor, informal and excluded.

Using UNDP, ECLAC and ILO data over the last twenty years, we can discern a number of trends. In the first place, poverty, informality and social exclusion have become a massive urban phenomenon. Aggregate statistical data from 1990 to the early 2000s show a consistent proportion of the urban income poor in Latin America of more than one-third of the total urban population, with a tendency to increase after 2000 (see Table 1.1). With the urban population still growing (and at a significantly faster rate than the rural population) during the 1990s, the absolute number of urban poor increased. In 2002, roughly 144 million (or 65 per cent) out of the total 221 million of income poor in Latin America lived in cities and towns. Fifty million people lived in extreme poverty (indigencia). This development is reflected in persistent and often increasing inequality in the distribution of urban income and wealth and in the geographic layout of Latin America's metropolis, in which the expansion of slums and the deterioration of popular neighbourhoods have become clearly visible over the past two or three decades.

In the second place, urban poverty has become increasingly heterogeneous, reflecting marked changes within the Latin American urban class structures (Portes 1985; Portes and Hoffman 2003). The chronically poor are now joined by the 'new poor', descending from the strata of the middle and industrial working classes. Old and new poor converge in the bulging sector of informal micro-entrepreneurs and self-employed in search of survival and livelihood strategies. The decomposition of the urban working class has led not only to the formation of a new urban social stratification but also to changes in the size and composition of poor households' family structures. The traditional role of men as heads of families is ebbing away with the growing number of female-headed households in the working-class neighbourhoods. Furthermore, the informal economy and society even generates hidden migration cycles, demographic breakdowns and cleavages within the family structure.

Central America, with its poverty-stricken and war-torn societies, perhaps provides the best example of disruption at the family level. Mahler (2002) presents an overview of the Central American intra- and extra-regional migration processes: the displacement process of war refugees fleeing violence and the extra-regional migration, in fact a population exodus, to Mexico and the USA. Their remittances keep the informal societies of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua afloat. Data from Pérez Saínz (2004) substantiate this pattern of dependency on remittances, a structurally reduced employment market, unemployment among women and younger people, broken families and the despair of the family at home after the 'temporary' migration of the male members, and the bitter choice between self-employment and emigration.

Meanwhile, the social categories that have always been associated with poverty and exclusion (ethnic sectors and indigenous peoples) have retained and consolidated that traditional profile. Ethnicity is a stratifying factor within the urban informal economy and society. Mechanisms for survival predominate: ties of ethnicity, religion, real or symbolic family relationships, closeness to the place of birth, local neighbourhood relations. The informal economy has more to do with black people than the black market. In the Andean countries, in Central America and Mexico, features of Quechua or Mayan culture mix with elements of informal society.

This river of poverty and exclusion bursting its banks and generating this new basin of informality and second-class citizenship was portrayed, in the early 1980s, by Peruvian anthropologist Matos Mar (1984) as the desborde popular. In a prophetic essay he depicted the decline of the institutional pillars of traditional Peruvian society, overwhelmed by the mushrooming of Lima's pueblos jovenes (new villages) – the political euphemism for a massive popular invasion of poor-quality urban terrain – and its consequences in terms of the emergence of a qualitatively new urban society. He also predicted the timid birth of a diversity of organizations representing the informal entrepreneurs and self-employed, such as local and regional chambers of craftsmen and comedores populares (community-run canteens offering cheap meals in the slums of Lima Metropolitana). What all these have in common is an ambivalent relationship of dependency on professional development organizations, such as religious and ecclesiastical foundations, NGOs, donor agencies, private banks 'with a social face', and municipal and central government organizations, their financiers.

In an updated version of his essay, published twenty years later (Matos Mar 2004), he took into account the collapse of the traditional support institutions of the democratic order: the decline of political parties, the erosion of the status of the legislature and the judiciary, the dwindling stature of magistrates as the legitimate authorities in the sphere of law and order, the collapse of the once powerful trade union confederations, and the weakening of other conventional entities of civil society, such as the chambers of industry and commerce, the professional organizations of doctors, lawyers and engineers, etc. Twenty-first-century Peru, and Latin America as a whole, is, in his opinion, 'a national society that is incomplete and unfinished, not authentic, a half-way formed Republic, to be reconstructed, revaluated and revitalised to create the possibility of [...] full, participatory citizenship with (national) identity' (ibid.: 116).

Matos Mar none the less ends on a note of optimism, as if informality and exclusion were syndromes to be overcome in time, particularly through deliberate social and political reform. But is such an agenda of reinstitutionalization feasible? The parallel institutions, hierarchies and sectors that have emerged in the wake of poverty, informality and social exclusion may well have formed a more durable, albeit heterogeneous, economic, social, political and cultural order. Formal and informal institutions regulate themselves with their own types of logic, morality and sanctions: the civil order of the formal economy and society, and the semi-anarchy of poverty, informality and social exclusion.

From desborde popular to desborde de la violencia: conceptualizing exclusion, insecurity and violence

Urban second-class citizenship is also citizenship with a violent face. At the end of the 1970s, Walton (1976, 1977) introduced the concept of 'divided cities'. In the 1970s and 1980s, the 'divided' or 'fragmented' cities were mostly typified in terms of urban misery or social exclusion and were described in terms of the dichotomy between elites and well-to-do middle classes versus the 'forgotten' slum dwellers. The intertwined dynamics of social exclusion and proliferation of violence had also acquired clear spatial dimensions. This has been noted by numerous authors (e.g. Portes 1989; Caldeira 2000; Rolnik 1999). Urban segregation refers not only to the geographical distribution of the traditional markers of poverty (human deprivation, dilapidated housing, absent services and degraded public spaces) but also to the territorial and social division of cities in 'go' and 'no-go' areas, at least from the perspective of the middle-class citizen and local public administration. The shanty towns came to be seen as veritable enclaves that obeyed a totally different set of rules and codes of conduct.

From the 1990s on, however, the concept of the urban divide began to be identified with the 'unrule of law' (Méndez et al. 1999), the lack of human security and the absence of security and law-enforcing authorities in the neglected parts of the urban territory. The case of Rio de Janeiro, whose poverty-stricken and crime-ridden favelas are synonymous with 'no-go areas' within the metropolitan boundaries, acquired a depressing reputation among researchers and authors dealing with urban violence. Ventura's (2002 [1994]) publication on the cidadepartida was to be followed by other publications. After restudying the favelas and their inhabitants featured in her late 1960s and early 1970s research thirty years later, Perlman (2005: 22) arrives at the sobering conclusion that the 'myth of marginality' has changed into the 'reality of marginality'. Her new study shows that urban violence and insecurity, linked to the stigma of living in a favela, are the most powerful mechanisms contributing to the 'new marginality'. The relationship between the recent increase of poverty and violence in Buenos Aires was discussed, in comparative terms, by Saín (2002). Pécaut (2001, 2003) discussed extensively the Colombian situation, where urban social exclusion, crime and violence became part of the vortex of large-scale drugs-based organized crime and political violence within the country's 'degenerated' civil conflict (PNUD 2003).

In other words, the connection between urban poverty, insecurity and violence has been reformulated in terms of the 'violent' failure of citizenship. Here it might be useful to bring in the concept of 'citizen security'. Although we run the risk here of adding to the already growing terminological confusion with respect to poverty, exclusion, vulnerability and insecurity, the notion of citizen security can be used to establish a conceptual link between poverty, exclusion, state failure and violence. The term echoes the notion of human security that has served to bring concern for poverty and vulnerability, in short human welfare and those factors that put it at risk, into the study of conflict, violence and security (UNDP 1994; World Bank 2000). It is true that this effort to direct the security notion away from an exclusive focus on the (military) threats of (territorial) states to the threats of individuals and communities has to a certain degree overstretched the security concept (Paris 2001). We suggest here that human security should mean the freedom of individuals and communities from threats posed by conflict and violence to their physical, social or cultural integrity or survival. Citizen security further narrows this notion down by saying that freedom from violence should be seen as part of the citizenship status of individuals and communities. That is to say, individuals and communities are, ideally, citizens because they are rights-bearers to the extent that they are incorporated into nation-states and (increasingly but tentatively) into an international community which abide by the principles of democracy, rule of law and humanitarian standards. Therefore, human security should be guaranteed in the public domain within a framework of citizenship rights.

Poverty in itself will not normally generate systematic or organized violence. But persistent social exclusion, linked to alternative extra-legal sources of income and power, combined with an absent or failing state in particular territorial/social settings, will provide means and motives for violent actions, which contribute in turn to a disintegration of the social and moral fabric. Urban violence in Latin America can thus be seen as a typical manifestation of citizenship insecurity, because citizenship, democratic governance and the rule of law are at the same time embraced by intellectuals, NGOs and political elites as guiding principles for contemporary social development in the region and ignored or regarded as inconsequentual by a significant proportion of the region's (urban) population (Koonings and Kruijt 2004). Citizenship insecurity not only has this element of (partial) state failure and the fragmentation of rights, but is also reflected in the practices and perceptions of those living in the contemporary urban no-go areas: the restriction of the freedom to move and to act socially, the feeling of discrimination and stigmatization, the imminence of danger in the face of abandonment or even victimization by the forces of law and order and 'extra-legal' armed actors alike.


Excerpted from Fractured Cities by Kees Koonings, Dirk Kruijt. Copyright © 2007 Kees Koonings and Dirk Kruijt. Excerpted by permission of Zed Books Ltd.
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Table of Contents

About the Authors

Introduction: The Duality of Latin American Cityscapes
Kees Koonings and Dirk Kruijt

Chapter 1:
Fractured Cities, Second-Class Citizenship, and Urban Violence
Kees Koonings and Dirk Kruijt
Urban poverty, desborde popular and the erosion of the formal social order
From desborde popular to desborde de la violencia : conceptualising exclusion, insecurity and violence
Armed actors and violence brokers
The politics of urban violence
Parallel power and perverse integration

Chapter 2:
Rio de Janeiro
Elizabeth Leeds
Favela-Related Violence
Impact on Education
Motives for involvement in drug-trading
Police and Community - Negative Dialogues
Political-Administrative Constraints
Police Oversight and the Lack of Political Will - Costs and Consequences

Chapter 3:
Mexico City
Wil Pansters and Hector Castillo Berthier
Violence as fact and phantom
Metropolitan structure and security governance
Patterns and actors of insecurity and violence
Governmental and societal responses and strategies

Chapter 4:
Ralph Rozema
History of urban violence in Medell¡n
Daily life under guerrillas and paramilitaries
A promising peace process with paramilitaries
Concluding remarks

Chapter 5:
Dennis Rodgers
Barrio Luis Fanor Hern ndez: Past and Present
Drugs, material wealth, and conspicuous consumption
Consumption, cultural exclusion, and predation
Violence and primitive accumulation

Chapter 6:
Roberto Brice¤o-Le¢n
Divided Caracas
The advent of violence in Caracas
Forms of violence
Fear as an urban sentiment
The loss of the city
Democracy and violence in the city

Chapter 7:
Lima Metropolitana
Carlos Iv n Degregori and Dirk Kruijt
City of informales
New social actors and new forms of popular organisation
Low-Intensity Violence

Chapter 8:
Living in Fear: How the Urban Poor Perceive Violence, Fear and Insecurity
Cathy McIlwaine and Caroline O.N. Moser
The Diversity and Complexity of Violence among the Urban Poor
Urban Poor Constructions of Fear: Social Fragmentation and Spatial Restrictions
The Legitimization of Violence among the Urban Poor I: The Emergence of Perverse Social Organizations
The Legitimization of Violence among the Urban Poor II: Inadequate State Security and Judicial Protection
Non-violent Coping: a Gendered Response

Epilogue: Latin America's Urban Duality Revisited
Dirk Kruijt and Kees Koonings



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