Social exclusion has been a prominent topic in my courses here in Buenos Aires. Each of my courses requires a presentation, and for two out of four, I have presented on this topic as it relates to basic slum geography, how the environment intersects with socioeconomics, and more.
Slums are horribly present in Latin America but also very excluded from the reality of many. Typically located on the periphery of major urban areas, slums are known for their “bad geology” as Mike Davis puts it in The Planet of Slums. The land on which they are situated tends to be land that is not meant for residence. For example, the Villa Inflamable in Buenos Aires is located by the highly polluted Matanza River. The homes in this slum are low lying, so often residents pay surrounding petrochemical companies to dump waste nearby that can then be used to prop their homes higher.
If you live in the central part of the city, you are most likely to not see a slum in your time. That to me was one of the scariest notions to come to terms with in my study abroad time: people living in the worst of conditions, but because they are located in a socially isolated area, their reality becomes separate and often ignored. The relationship slums have with the government, which is meant to protect you, is one characterized by negativity. The government rarely channels help to the slums, and probably the largest interaction slum residents see with the government is when law enforcement is either evicting them from their land or for arrests. It is a cycle of systemic violence where people are not living in the worst of conditions as mentioned before but also are forced in a way to remain there. Socioeconomic mobility is near to impossible. The stigma associated with slums even renders it difficult for residents to obtain a job in the central city, with employers turning away potential applicants if they see their address as located within a slum. In Buenos Aires, slums are called “villas miserias” or misery towns. The name itself speaks volumes. They began to expand as a result of the Argentine economic crisis in the early 2000s -- the effect of which is present to this day.
Through coursework, I have come to further grasp the variety of factors that play into social exclusion, a topic that I touched upon barely in my undergraduate studies. While I was aware that slums existed, I did not delve into the structural conditions that allow for them to exist. In doing so, I am more aware than I have ever been, providing the background knowledge needed to question next how these conditions can be challenged.