Why the slum is evictable but the subdivision is not: Danger zones, territoriality, and the aesthetic turn of risk

2017 Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers, 5-9 April, Boston, Massachusetts 


Drawing on a discourse analysis of policy documents and key informant interviews, I discuss how the delineation of danger zones in Philippine DRM policy explains why slums have become the object of intervention in flood risk management. I begin by recounting anti-slum discourses of the Ketsana disaster in 2009 to draw out the undesirability of the slum both as a geographic space and a population, and show how narratives of blame and attributions of responsibility have shaped the goals of DRM and informed the delineation of danger zones. I trace the basis of danger zones to a law on eviction and demolition, and consider the expansion of its scope to encompass territories of homelessness and poor informality to point out that the concept itself was framed in terms of the spatial illegality and evictability of the slum-dwelling poor. I then relate this to two key points: that danger zones were neither properly defined nor scientifically determined, and that disaster risk functioned instead as an aesthetic category. Following Ghertner’s (2015) idea of aesthetic rule, I argue that the visual appearance of vulnerability served as the basis for adjudicating danger zones. Finally, I examine how the aesthetic turn of risk proved useful to the territorialization of risk, which facilitated the preferential eviction of slums alongside the systematic exclusion of other environments and populations from the same intervention.

Work cited:

Ghertner, D. Ahser. 2015. Rule by Aesthetics: World-Class City making in Delhi. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Author: Khristine Alvarez

I am a critical urban sociologist, geographer, and political activist previously based in Manila, and currently working on a PhD The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU), University College London (UCL). I am the recipient of the 2018 DPU 60th Anniversary Doctoral Scholarship Award, as well as the 2018 Gilbert F. White Thesis Award from the Hazards, Risks and Disasters Specialty Group (HRDSG) of the American Association of Geographers (AAG). My PhD research examines how ‘danger zone’ evictions as a consequence and requirement of resilience-seeking in post-Ondoy (2009-present) Metro Manila transformed coastal and riparian corridors in the urban core and created relocation hubs in the periphery. Through a critical genealogy and ethnography of the Metro Manila Flood Management Project and the Informal Settler Families Housing Program, it aims to weave a critical account of ‘resilient’ city-making and theorise the new drivers and new modes of dispossession that reconfigure urban and peri-urban space in vulnerable Southern coastal cities.

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