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The political economy of survival in an urban slum : the Jamaican case Gayle, Noga Agnus


This dissertation deals with the political economy of survival within a Jamaican urban slum. It departs from the sociological tradition of viewing the slum as a separate social entity and treats it as an integral part of the urban community. For theoretical guidance, the dissertation draws significantly upon works subscribing to the dependency perspective. However, the inner dynamics of survival, presented throughout the study are derived through participant observation in the West Kingston slum. Problems within the slum such as high unemployment, crime, violence, overcrowding and the general state of poverty are viewed within the context of Jamaica's historical dependence. The thrust of the study focuses on the techniques employed by slum dwellers in their struggle for survival. These include participation in petty commodity production and petty trading, most of which takes the form of hustling which is conceptualized as the application of one's wits in securing scarce material resources. Furthermore, as the slum dwellers struggle to survive, they at the same time contribute to the economy in ways that are not usually recognized by the state. Given the scarcity of jobs, competition tends to be fierce. This is reinforced by a strong orientation towards individual acquisitiveness. The situation is manipulated by politicians through a highly sophisticated political patronage system. Political violence is usually the result. The slum dwellers do not appear to be in control of their social world. Many make sense of their world by resorting to a strong belief in the occult or participation in various syncretized religious cults. There is an absence of political consciousness among slum dwellers who tend not to perceive their poor material condition as socially produced, thus perpetuating their situation. This dissertation shows that the slum dwellers sustain an asymmetrical symbiotic relationship with the urban economy.

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