What is clientelism?

The aim of this course unit is to understand and analyse the contribution of citizen and/or grassroots-led development to achieving inclusive and pro-poor development, and to provide an opportunity to understand the contributions of both professionals and organized urban poor groups to development. The course provides a unique learning experience through a set of lectures given by members of Shack/Slum Dwellers International’s Kenyan Federation.


On successful completion of this course unit, students will

  • Understand the significance of citizen and grassroots-led development in terms of social justice, participation, rights-based approaches to development and empowerment
  • Engage critically with relevant theories and conceptual frameworks.
  • Demonstrate knowledge of the tools, methods, practices and rituals used by SDI affiliates and have an understanding of their significance to citizen, grassroots and community-led development 

Course Plan

The course is divided into three parts. Part one is introductory and explains the conceptual frameworks used in the course unit, as well as the case study of SDI that we will be exploring in more detail. There are three introductory lectures. The first elaborates on the nature of urban poverty and informal settlements, looking at urban poverty in terms of limited access to assets, entitlements and capabilities, and in terms of different forms of exclusion. This sets the groundwork for lecture two, which introduces the political dimensions of poverty reduction and the alternative strategies followed by social movements. The third lecture will then look at interventions to reduce poverty, and exemplify one form of citizen-led development. This will introduce the history and organization of Shack/ Slum Dwellers International, with whom we will interact with for the module’s second component in Week 5 and 6.  These lectures are essentially an introduction to the relevant literature and scene-setting. They will enable course participants to proceed to the second set of lectures with an awareness of the material conditions, and the theories and discourses used by professionals and academics in intervention-design, in and for the neighbourhoods in which SDI groups have emerged and been active. The tutorial in Week 4 enables you to explore the strategies, successes and weaknesses of another example of citizen-led development, which you can compare and contrast with the experiences of SDI.

In Week 5 and 6, part two of the course unit includes a number of lectures by SDI community activists from Kenya, in which grassroots leaders explain their practices and elaborate on their experiences. We will examine the contextual factors that have led to particular strategies, the implications for organizing within the neighbourhood and wider settlement, the alliances that need to be created and the strategies to secure such alliances, and the practices (and outcomes) of negotiating with the state.  These sessions will also provide an opportunity to examine the processes associated with the transnational networking of civil society (in both its global and local manifestations), and the ways in which SDI has sought to engage with international development assistance agencies, while maintaining its autonomy. 

Part three of the course unit includes the final lecture and two tutorial sessions in which we bring together the theoretical and conceptual literature with the material experiences.  The tutorial groups will discuss how the experiences that you have observed match (or not) to the issues raised in the literature. The thematic division of the final two sessions will cover community mobilisation, politics, participation and urban development.  

                                    The role of professionals in citizen-led development

Core Readings

Mitlin, D. and Satterthwaite, D (2013) Urban Poverty in the Global South: Scale and Nature, Abingdon: Routledge, (Chapters 4 Incomes and livelihoods and 6 Broadening the understanding and measurement of urban poverty)

Additional Readings

You will find it useful to look at two special issues on chronic urban poverty published in 2005. One is International Planning Studies (10.1) and the other Environment and Urbanization (17.2).  Each contains a number of relevant papers.  The first is more quantitative and the second more qualitative.  Also note Environment and Urbanization, special issue on Violence and Insecurity 16(2).

Auyero, J (2000) Poor People’s Politics, Durham and London: Duke University Press

Auyero, J (2010) Visible fists, clandestine kicks, and invisible elbows: three forms of regulating neoliberal poverty, European Review of Latin American and Caribbean Studies 89 (October): 5-26

Beall, J (2002) Living in the present, investing in the future – housing security among the poor.  In Carole Rakodi with Tony Lloyd-Jones (editors), Urban Livelihoods: A people-centred approach to reducing poverty.  London: Earthscan, pp71-89.

Chant, S (2010) (ed) The International Handbook of Gender and Poverty: concepts, research and policy Edward Elgar, Cheltenham

Chen, M. and Skinner C, (2014) ‘The Urban Informal Economy: Enhanced knowledge, Appropriate Policies and Effective Organisation’ in, S. Parnell and S. Oldfield (Eds.) The Routledge Handbook on Cities of the Global South Abingdon: Routledge, Chapter 20, pp219-236

Drinkwater, M. (2009) ‘We are also human’: identity and power in gender relations, in Rights based approaches to Development: exploring the potential and pitfalls, edited by S. Hickey and D. Mitlin, Sterling, VA: Kumarian Press, pp 145-163.

Gonzalez De La Rocha, M. (2009) ‘The Construction of the Myth of Survival’ Development and Change 38(1): 45-66.

Haddad, L, Ruel M T and Garrett L J.  (1999)  Are urban poverty and under-nutrition growing?  Some newly assembled evidence.  Food Consumption and Nutrition Division.  Washington: International Food Policy Research Institute. 

Harriss-White, B. (2005) Destitution and the poverty of its politics—with special reference to South Asia. World Development 33 (6): 881-891.

Kabir, A, Rahman A, Salway S and Pryer J. (2000) Sickness among the urban poor: a barrier to livelihood security. Journal for International Development 12: 707-722.

Meikle, S (2002) The urban context and poor people.  In Carole Rakodi with Tony Lloyd-Jones (editors), Urban Livelihoods: A people-centred approach to reducing poverty.  London: Earthscan Publications Ltd, pp37-51.

Moser, C. (1998) The asset vulnerability framework: reassessing urban poverty reduction strategies.  World Development 26(1): 1-19.

Moser, C. (2009) Ordinary Families, Extraordinary Lives: Assets and Poverty Reduction in Guayaquil 1978-2004. Washington: Brookings Institution Press.

Perlman, J. (2007) Globalization and the urban poor. Paper 2007/76, Helsinki: WIDER.

Perlman, J. (2010) Favela: Four decades of living on the edge in Rio de Janeiro. New York, Oxford University Press.

Rakodi, C (2002) ‘A livelihoods approach – Conceptual issues and definitions’.  In Carole Rakodi with Tony Lloyd-Jones (editors), Urban Livelihoods: A people-centred approach to reducing poverty.  London: Earthscan, pp3-22.

Rakodi, Carole with Tony Lloyd-Jones (editors) (2002) Urban Livelihoods: A people-centred approach to reducing poverty.  London: Earthscan Publications Ltd.

Scheper-Hughes, N. (1992) Death Without Weeping: the Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil, Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

World Bank, Africa Region (2006) Kenya Inside Informality: Poverty, jobs, housing and services in Nairobi’s slums. Washington D.C.: World Bank.


Wratten, E (1995) Conceptualizing urban poverty Environment and Urbanization 7(1): 11-36.

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