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The role of collective action and urban social movements in reducing chronic urban poverty

Diana Mitlin


The purpose of this paper is to explore the contribution of urban social movements in addressing urban poverty, particularly the poverty experienced by the chronic (or long-term) poor in Southern towns and cities.

After a Summary and Introduction, the substantive discussion begins in Section Two by reviewing the scale and characteristics of urban poverty, outlining the challenges which movements and their members face. Section Three contextualises social movement activity as one of several development strategies used by the poor; the section reviews both individual and collective alternatives to movement activity, elaborating on the difficulties faced in including and addressing the needs of the chronically poor. The Section ends with a categorisation of social movements in urban areas. This includes three types of movement related to labour and employment; protecting and acquiring land and other assets; and disadvantaged social identities seeking greater political inclusion. The discussion of the inclusion of the poorest, both within movements and their activities, and in respect of the outcomes being in the interests of those who have the lowest income and/or who are otherwise vulnerable, highlights the significance of the political context. Section Four elaborates the relationship between movements/movement activities and the "position" taken by states within a five-fold distinction. The paper explores movements and movement activities with the bureaucratic, clientelist, authoritarian, participatory democratic and co-productive state. The final Section reflects on the discussion in respect of the inter-relationships between movements, their membership, their activities and poverty reduction in urban areas. It also examines the potential contribution of development assistance agencies to supporting social movements that engage with those in chronic urban poverty.

Publication Type(s)

CPRC Working Paper


adverse incorporation urban areas social movements labour

ISBN: 1-904049-63-X


1 collective action and urban social movements PDF 435.6 KB

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