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.


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.

Access Token
If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Araújo, S. H. and Costa, E. B. (2017) ‘From social hell to heaven? The intermingling processes of territorial stigmatization, agency from below and gentrification in Varjão, Brazil’, in P. Kirkness and A. Tijé-Dra (eds), Negative Neighbourhood Reputation and Place Attachment: the Production and Contestation of Territorial Stigma, New York, Routledge, 172-191. Google Scholar

Arthurson, K. (2012) ‘Social mix, reputation, and stigma: exploring residents’ perspectives of neighbourhood effects’, in M. van Ham, D. Manley, N. Bailey, L. Simpson and D. Maclennan (eds), Neighbourhood Effects Research: New Perspectives, New York, Springer, 101-120. Google Scholar

August, M. (2014) ‘Challenging the rhetoric of stigmatization: the benefits of concentrated poverty in Toronto’s Regent Park’, Environment and Planning A, 46(6), 1317-1333. Google Scholar

Bandauko, E., Annan-Aggrey, E. and Arku, G. (2021) ‘Planning and managing urbanization in the twenty-first century: content analysis of selected African countries’ national urban policies’, Urban Research and Practice, 14(1), 94-104. Google Scholar

Barnes, K., Waitt, G., Gill, N. and Gibson, C. (2006) ‘Community and nostalgia in urban revitalisation: a critique of urban village and creative class strategies as remedies for social “problems”’, Australian Geographer, 37(3), 335-354. Google Scholar

Blokland, T. (2008) ‘“You got to remember you live in public housing”: place-making in an American housing project’, Housing, Theory and Society, 25(1), 31-46. Google Scholar

Butler, A., Schafran, A. and Carpenter, G. (2018) ‘What does it mean when people call a place a shithole? Understanding a discourse of denigration in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 43, 496-510. Google Scholar

Clarke, J., Newman, J., Smith, N., Vidler, E. and Westmarland, L. (2007) Creating Citizen-Consumers: Changing Publics and Changing Public Services, Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage. Google Scholar

Coelho, K., Mahadevia, D. and Williams, G. (2020) ‘Outsiders in the periphery: studies of the peripheralization of low income housing in Ahmedabad and Chennai, India’, International Journal of Housing Policy, (accessed 28 September 2020). Google Scholar

Crang, M. (2005) ‘Qualitative methods: there is nothing outside the text?’, Progress in Human Geography, 29(2), 225-233. Google Scholar

Cuny, C. (2018) ‘Residents’ responses to “territorial stigmatization”: visual research in Berlin’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 888-913. Google Scholar

Eizenberg, E. and Cohen, N. (2015) ‘Reconstructing urban image through cultural flagship events: the case of Bat-Yam’, Cities, 42, 54-62. Google Scholar

Garbin, D. and Millington, G. (2012) ‘Territorial stigma and the politics of resistance in a Parisian banlieue: La Courneuve and beyond’, Urban Studies, 49(10), 2067-2083. Google Scholar

Gibson, T. A. (2005) ‘NIMBY and the civic good’, City and Community, 4(4), 381-401. Google Scholar

Government of Zimbabwe (2005) ‘Response by the government of Zimbabwe to the report by the UN special envoy on operation Murambatsvina’, Harare, Government of Zimbabwe. Google Scholar

Horgan, M. (2018) ‘Territorial stigmatization and territorial destigmatization: a cultural sociology of symbolic strategy in the gentrification of Parkdale (Toronto)’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 42(3), 500-516. Google Scholar

Ingen, C. V., Sharpe, E. and Lashua, B. (2018) ‘Neighbourhood stigma and the sporting lives of young people in public housing’, International Review for the Sociology of Sport, 53(2), 197-212. Google Scholar

Jensen, S. Q. and Christensen, A. D. (2012) ‘Territorial stigmatization and local belonging’, City, 16(1-2), 74-92. Google Scholar

Kallin, H. and Slater, T. (2014) ‘Activating territorial stigma: gentrifying marginality on Edinburgh’s periphery’, Environment and Planning A, 46(6), 1351-1368. Google Scholar

Kamete, A. Y. (2012) ‘Missing the point? Urban planning and the normalization of “pathological” spaces in southern Africa’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 38, 639-651. Google Scholar

Kamete, A. Y. (2013) ‘On handling urban informality in southern Africa’, Geografiska Annaler: Series B, Human Geography, 95(1), 17-31. Google Scholar

Keene, D. E. and Padilla, M. B. (2010) ‘Race, class and the stigma of place: moving to “opportunity” in Eastern Iowa’, Health and Place, 16(6), 1216-1223. Google Scholar

Keene, D. E. and Padilla, M. B. (2014) ‘Spatial stigma and health inequality’, Critical Public Health, 24(4), 392-404. Google Scholar

Kim, D., Tanzil, S., Mattijs, V. O. and Ishita, C. (2020) ‘Informal settlement is not a euphemism for slum: what is at stake beyond the language’, International Development Planning Review, 42(5), 1-12. Google Scholar

Kipfer, S. (2015) ‘Neo-colonial urbanism? La Renovation Urbaine in Paris’, Antipode, 48(3), 603-625. Google Scholar

Kirkness, P. (2014) ‘The cites strike back: restive responses to territorial taint in the French banlieues’, Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 46(6), 1281-1296. Google Scholar

Koutrolikou, P. (2015) ‘Socio-spatial stigmatization and its “incorporation” in the centre of Athens, Greece’, City, 19(4), 510-521. Google Scholar

Larsen, T. S. and Delica, K. N. (2019) ‘The production of territorial stigmatization’, City, 23(4-5), 540-563. Google Scholar

Li, Z. and Wu, F. (2013) ‘Residential satisfaction in China’s informal settlements: a case study of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou’, Urban Geography, 34(7), 923-949. Google Scholar

Lindemann, H. (2001) Damaged Identities, Narrative Repair, Ithaca, NY, Cornell University Press. Google Scholar

Marelli, C. M. (2019) ‘The commodification of territorial stigma: how local actors can cope with their stigma’, Urban Research & Practice, https://doi.10.1080/17535069.2019.1683600 (accessed 28 September 2020). Google Scholar

Marx, B., Stoker, T. and Suri, T. (2013) ‘The economics of slums in the developing world’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 27(4), 187-210. Google Scholar

Matamanda, A. R. (2020) ‘Battling the informal settlement challenge through sustainable city framework: experiences and lessons from Harare, Zimbabwe’, Development Southern Africa, 37(2), 217-231 Google Scholar

Mbiba, B. (2017) ‘Harare: from a European “settler-colonial” city to a “zhing-zhong” African city’, International Development Planning Review, 39(4), 375-398. Google Scholar

Mbiba, B. (2019) ‘Planning scholarship and the fetish about planning in Southern Africa: the case of Zimbabwe’s operation Murambatsvina’, International Planning Studies, 24(2), 97-109. Google Scholar

McKenzie, L. (2012) ‘A narrative from the inside: studying St Ann’s in Nottingham. Belonging, continuity and change’, The Sociological Review, 60, 457-475. Google Scholar

Muchadenyika, D. (2015) ‘Slum upgrading and inclusive municipal governance in Harare, Zimbabwe: new perspectives for the urban poor’, Habitat International, 48, 1-10. Google Scholar

Muchadenyika, D. and Waiswa, J. (2018) ‘Policy, politics and leadership in slum upgrading: a comparative analysis of Harare and Kampala’, Cities, 82, 58-67. Google Scholar

Murphy, A. K. (2012) ‘“Litterers”: how objects of physical disorder are used to construct subjects of social disorder in a suburb’, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 642(1), 210-227. Google Scholar

Nédélec, P. (2017) ‘The stigmatization of Las Vegas and its inhabitants: the other side of the coin’, in P. Kirkness and A. Tijé-Dra (eds), Negative Neighbourhood Reputation and Place Attachment: The Production and Contestation of Territorial Stigma, New York, Routledge, 9-26. Google Scholar

Osborne, K., Ziersch, A. and Baum, F. (2011) ‘Perceptions of neighbourhood disorder and reputation: qualitative findings from two contrasting areas of an Australian city’, Urban Policy and Research, 29(3), 239-256. Google Scholar

Padilla, M. (2013) ‘Spatial stigma, sexuality and neoliberal decline in Detroit Michigan, S&F Online, 11(1-2), (accessed 28 September 2020). Google Scholar

Palmer, C., Ziersch, A., Arthurson, K. and Baum, F. (2004) ‘Challenging the stigma of public housing: preliminary findings from a qualitative study in South Australia’, Urban Policy and Research, 22(4), 411-426. Google Scholar

Peters, M. and De Andrade, T. (2017) ‘Only people who know it here speak well of it: the location of social housing in Brazilian cities and effects of territorial stigmatization’, Journal of Brazilian Studies, 5(2), 307-326. Google Scholar

Pinkster, F. M., Ferier, M. S. and Hoekstra, M. S. (2020) ‘On the stickiness of territorial stigma: diverging experiences in Amsterdam’s most notorious neighborhoods’, Antipode, 52(2), 522-541. Google Scholar

Roy, A. (2005) ‘Urban informality: toward an epistemology of planning’, Journal of the American Planning Association, 71(2), 147-158. Google Scholar

Simpson, R. J (2009) ‘Disparity and diversity in the contemporary city: social (dis)order revisited’, The British Journal of Sociology, 60(1), 1-31. Google Scholar

Sisson, A. (2020) ‘Territory and territorial stigmatization: on the production, consequences, and contestation of spatial disrepute’, Progress in Human Geography, 1-23. Google Scholar

Slater, T. (2017) ‘Territorial stigmatization, gentrification, and class struggle: an interview with Tom Slate’, in P. Kirkness and A. Tije-Dra (eds), Negative Neighbourhood Reputation and Place Attachment: The Production and Contestation of Territorial Stigma, London, Routledge, 235-251. Google Scholar

Slater, T. and Anderson, N. (2012) ‘The reputational ghetto: territorial stigmatization in St Paul’s, Bristol’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 37, 530-546. Google Scholar

Smith, C. B. R. (2010) ‘Socio-spatial stigmatization and the contested space of addiction treatment: remapping strategies of opposition to the disorder of drugs’, Social Science & Medicine, 70(6), 859-866. Google Scholar

Tagle, J. A. (2017) ‘Territorial stigmatization in socially mixed neighborhoods in Chicago and Santiago: a comparison of global-North and global-South urban renewal problems’, in P. Watt and P. Smets (eds), Social Housing and Urban Renewal: A Cross-National Perspective, Bingley, Emerald. Google Scholar

Taylor, A., and Peter, C. (2014) Strengthening Climate Resilience in African Cities. A Framework of Working with Informality. Cape Town, Africa Center for Cities. Google Scholar

Toriro, P. (2008), Town Planning in Zimbabwe: History Challenges and the Urban Renewal Operation Murambatsvina: Zimbabwe’s Development Experiences Since 1980: Challenges and Prospects for the Future, Harare, Organisation for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa. Google Scholar

Tyler, I. (2013) Revolting Subjects: Social Abjection and Resistance in Neoliberal Britain, London, Zed Books. Google Scholar

Tyler, I. and Slater, T. (2018) ‘Rethinking the sociology of stigma’, The Sociological Review, 66(4), 721-743. Google Scholar

UN-Habitat (2020) 2020 World Cities Report. The Value of Sustainable Urbanization, Nairobi, UN Habitat. Google Scholar

Wacquant, L. (1993) ‘Urban outcasts: stigma and division in the black American ghetto and the French urban periphery’, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 17, 366-383. Google Scholar

Wacquant, L. J. D. (2007) ‘Territorial stigmatization in the age of advanced marginality’, Thesis Eleven, 91(1), 66-77. Google Scholar

Wacquant, L. J. D. (2008) Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality, Malden, MA, Polity. Google Scholar

Wacquant, L., Slater, T. and Borges-Pereira, V. (2014) ‘Territorial stigmatization in action’, Environment and Planning A, 46(6), 1270-1280. Google Scholar

Warr, D. (2005) ‘There goes the neighbourhood: the malign effects of stigma’, Social City, 19, 1-11. Google Scholar

Warr, D. J. (2016) ‘Social networks in a “discredited” neighbourhood’, Journal of Sociology, 41(3), 285-308. Google Scholar

Wekwete, K. H. (1987) ‘Growth Centre Policy in Zimbabwe, A Focus on District Centres, Occasional Paper, Dept of Rural and Urban Planning’, Harare, University of Zimbabwe Google Scholar

If you have private access to this content, please log in with your username and password here


Author details

Bandauko, Elmond

Kutor, Senanu Kwasi

Annan-Aggrey, Eunice

Arku, Godwin