International Development Planning Review

‘They say these are places for criminals, but this is our home’: internalising and countering discourses of territorial stigmatisation in Harare’s informal settlements

International Development Planning Review Ahead of print, 1–23.

Abstract

In developing countries, people living in informal settlements are subjected to different forms of coercive control such as threats of evictions, exclusion, blocked access to urban services and other types of structural violence. These coercive measures are legitimised through the discursive branding of informal settlements as ‘unplanned’, ‘disorderly’ and ‘dangerous’ neighbourhoods. This paper examines how people living in these denigrated neighbourhoods engage with and resist this territorial stigmatisation. It uses data from key informant interviews (KIIs) with urban elites, in-depth interviews (IDIs) and focus group discussions (FGDs) with residents of Harare’s informal settlements. Our analysis reveals that while some informal settlement residents have internalised stigmatising discourses, others resist them through constructing counternarratives that seek to portray their settlements as ‘good places for the urban poor’, thereby creating a positive image of their neighbourhoods in the context of extreme spatial and socio-economic marginalisation. These place-based narratives are rooted in the shared experiences with informality and associational life in a city where such residents are needed yet unwanted. We conclude that while informal settlement residents are aware of their precarity and tenure insecurities, these counternarratives build strong solidarities to resist state-sponsored evictions, arbitrary relocations and other forms of structural violence.

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Author details

Bandauko, Elmond

Kutor, Senanu Kwasi

Annan-Aggrey, Eunice

Arku, Godwin