Conference Mission and Format

Maximizing potential for impact on important global issues.

Building new connections across geographies, disciplines, and/or professions to promote    creative problem solving.

Prioritizing interaction, dialogue, and shared learning among participants through formats other than traditional lectures or presentations.

In consideration of these Rockefeller Foundation’s goals, the conference at the Rockefeller Center seeks to generate concrete ideas in order to advance a collaborative and comparative four-city research program on the varied contexts of urban poverty and the ways in which the poor conceive strategies to escape their predicament. A team of researchers working in Delhi, Kathmandu, Nairobi and Paris are in the process of devising a collaborative project that will explore urban deprivation across a number of contexts in these cities. Based in France, India, Kenya, Nepal and the US, the group seeks to understand contexts of contestations and negotiations between the urban poor and a variety of processes and peoples – bureaucracies, planners, the elite, etc. – that produce and can, sometimes, mitigate social deprivation.

The conference work plan has been devised in order to gather scholars, activists and policy makers who have worked on different aspects of the topic and whose deliberations will guide us towards devising specific fieldwork and analytical strategies for the research phase of the proposed four-city project. We seek to utilize the conference to develop a research framework that integrates social science, policy and activist approaches that will guide the collaborative four-city project. The conference will act as a listening post by taking on-board perspectives developed through different kinds of interventions in understanding urban deprivation and poverty.

Themes and Conference Format

The conference is planned across three days and the work plan reflects our desire to utilize the occasion as the context for conversations between participants that allow us to explore relationships between urban processes, deprivation and contexts of negotiations and contestations between the poor, on the one hand, and privileged sections of the urban population and bureaucracies, on the other. This will allow us to identify the needs of the urban poor as expressed by them and the obstructions they seek to remove in their struggle for access to resources for a more inclusive life in the city.

Our research program focuses upon three specific contexts:

  1. relationships of various kinds between the urban poor and more privileged groups, including those of employment, political participation and informal governance practices.
  2. bureaucracies that are in-charge of urban infrastructure and utilities.
  3. those official bodies that allocate housing and land.

The work plan is designed to explore these contexts through presentations, consultations and conversations among participants. It is important to note that while we have identified three distinct areas to guide discussion, we envisage that the actual conversation will touch upon many other topics besides. This, in turn, will allow us to more clearly see the links between the topics of discussion we have identified and other relevant contexts that need to be part of the broader project.

Participant Papers

Drawing from personal experiences, participants will present a reflection on each of the daily themes. Participants will explore their own perspective and conclusions rather than summarizing and generalizing literatures on that topic.

In addition to the short presentations described above, each participant is asked to prepare a brief paper addressing the topics below as relevant to the communities they study and work with (papers are shared with participants in advance of the conference; view papers):

  1. How are households of the urban poor taking action to gain what they need?
  2. What sorts of formal and informal work offer opportunities for men and women to make a living? How are those opportunities changing?
  3. Are there ways in which community based organizations and NGOs are representing and supporting the claims and negotiations of the urban poor with employers, city agencies and others?
  4. How are women and men in informal settlements able to gain education or health care and how is that changing?
  5. Are national and municipal agencies attempting to upgrade the living conditions of the urban poor? Are those agencies responsive to concerns of residents? What is happening as a result of such action?
  6. Are the urban poor able to achieve secure housing? What obstacles hinder this achievement?
  7. Is there action focused on women’s domestic work, and the risks and indignities that women face?
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