‘Slum Life’, is at first appearances a contradictory title for this project, as slums, and slum living is often associated with social groups that have fallen through the cracks of what is seen as regular and normal living. Slums are typically thought of as areas of social despotism, violence, drugs, and unclean living. While in some instances certain elements of this rather uncouth list may reflect a degree of validity, this exploratory research began to immediately identify that many of these ‘typical’ associations of slum living couldn’t be further from the truth. Instead, this research began to uncover that its targeted slums were often relatively safe places, areas of rich community, and above all zones of industry. This is not to suggest that because slums can be safe, communal, and industrious areas, that inequalities also are not as extreme as imagined. Rather it exacerbates the inequalities that slum people experience. The point I want to make here, is that by recognising that slum areas are commercial, and industrious places suggests that many of its inhabitants are indeed skilled and hardworking. This is a deeply important point in identifying the exacerbation of these peoples’ inequalities. It suggests that rather than being social dropouts, in-fact the many problems slum inhabitants face are deeply rooted in social and political functions. In other words, the existence of slums and their inhabitants is not a result of personal failure, a lack of effort, or some form of individualism -as many of us are led to believe- but in actuality, a result of particular social conditions, and societal dysfunctions. Or perhaps better said, they are a product of a type of society that requires armies of skilled, and hardworking poor. Many of these conditions are intimately tied to modern forms of political economy, consumerist desires, and I would also add is a side effect of human nature. However, before we can delve into these issues in greater detail, it is important to illuminate what precisely, are the inequalities these people experience. As this research is currently only exploratory, I want to leave the following field notes as both an example of their industriousness, their inequalities, and as a conclusion to this brief introduction.
I walk into a plastic recycling factory to find several teenage boys working around a custom made plastic chipping machine. They stuff large plastic containers into the sharp teeth of the machine, barely centimeters from their unprotected hands. The room has a heavy fog of plastic chips, and an overwhelming smell of toxin that makes me feel like emptying the contents of my stomach. It’s so dark, my camera struggles to capture the scene. Temperatures are so high many of the boys work in their underclothes only. Their bodies are covered in plastic shards embedded into their naked flesh. I turn to one of the men asking, "How can they work here, I feel so ill already". He responds, "The boys who work in here, don't live very long"...We leave the room (Field Notes 2014).