Physical space and its role in the production and reproduction of violence in the "slum wars" in Medellin, Colombia (1970s-2013)
Author(s)Samper Escobar, Jose Jaime
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Urban Studies and Planning.
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Rhetorically, people often make a tacit linkage between the spaces of urban informality ("slums"), crime and violence. This occurs in academic circles-as exemplified by the common occurrence that when researchers seek to understand urban crime and violence, they tend to study urban informal spaces (slums, favelas, barriadas, tugurios). However, it is clear that a direct correlation between conflict and informality does not automatically exist. What does exist is evidence that spaces of informality present challenges for formal (state) security actors to assert and maintain their Westphalian monopoly of violence. Conversely, informal settlements present advantages for non-state armed actors to deploy and exhort power and coercive force. This research here argues that, at the core of this contradiction between state disadvantage and non-state armed actor advantage over the control of security and governance, (physical) space clearly emerges as an important variable to study. This study then asks: What roles does physical space play in the conflict-that is, in the production and reproduction of violence-in informal settlements in Medellin? Understanding this would shed light on important phenomena about state and non-state control of informal settlements all over the world. This research looks for ways in which space has played a role in the ongoing urban conflict in the City of Medellin over the last forty years. I look for intersections between two parallel longitudinal studies I have conducted. (1) One study analyzes the physical evolution of Medellfn's informal settlements to map critical inflexion points in the production of urban forms. I also map how these urban forms evolved over time. (2) The second study is an ethnographic study of people's perspectives on their experiences with the evolution of such spaces. I then map their stories of building, rebuilding and urban conflict and merge this with the map of urban forms in the first dimension of my study. The research reveals that time and space in informal settlements do indeed change in prescriptive ways (stages). These stages of development are each marked by singular forms of conflict and violence. Here I argue that physical space plays a fundamental role in the way armed conflict happens in informal settlements. Physical space, which involves all actors in the conflict, impacts armed conflict in two distinct ways. Physical space (1) becomes a form of spatial conditioning that tailors actors and conflict and (2) creates and reinforces conditions unique to informal warfare strategies. This research suggests that we need radical changes in the way urban policy and projects are framed in the context of urban informality. It suggests that we need to consider this framing of informality in nations such as Colombia, in which there is a weak state fighting these types of new wars with asymmetrical adversaries on urban terrain and in which informality and criminal armed groups act. Pro-informal settlement policies and procedures could provide more stable and secure environments in informal settlements than the current tactic of massive expenditures on security in an ongoing asymmetrical warfare.
Thesis: Ph. D. in Urban and Regional Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, 2014.Cataloged from PDF version of thesis. Vita.Includes bibliographical references (pages 237-249).
DepartmentMassachusetts Institute of Technology. Department of Urban Studies and Planning.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Urban Studies and Planning.