It is commonplace for Masters courses to include lectures on urban poverty and urban poverty reduction but much less common for them to offer students a chance to learn from the leadership of organisations comprised of low-income households. For the last five years, the University of Manchester has offered a course unit on Citizen Led Development in its graduate teaching programme, with 60 per cent of the lectures given by federation leaders from Shack Dwellers International (SDI). Presenters have moved around the SDI network with guests from Zimbabwe (2010-11), Uganda (2012-13) and South Africa (2014). The Ugandans were refused visas and the lectures very given by video link. Over 40 per cent of lectures introduce the theories, conceptual frameworks and approaches underlying a range of poverty reduction interventions, while tutorials enable students to answer two fundamental questions:
- What do the key literatures offer to understand the challenges of disadvantage and exclusion in towns and cities of the global South (including literature on participation, poverty and inequality, urban politics and urban development strategies)?
- What do the experiences of SDI suggest in terms of the analysis in such literature, and what do they add to these literatures?
The community leaders' visit required some reorganisation of the timetable, with introductory lectures followed by a period of intense teaching during the visit, followed by tutorials once the visitors have departed.
The students in Manchester are almost universally positive about the experience. The most commonly identified benefits are threefold. First, students can ask about the experience of urban poverty in terms of the questions that they have, rather the answers that other academics have provided. Second, they can critically analyse the literature based on the histories and perspectives of the urban poor, rather than a juxtaposition of alternative conceptual frameworks, disciplinary constraints and "facts". Third, two other types of knowledge are presented as being of equal status to academic knowledge, the tacit knowledge of the urban poor and the collective knowledge of a leading civil society network of low-income and disadvantaged groups. The community leaders are also positive about the experience, as it de-mystifies an institution that is Northern and academic. Leaders use the recognition of the value of their skills and capabilities on their return, demanding that their value is recognised by their local authorities and other professionals.
15 minute paper by Diana Mitlin (University of Manchester, International Institute for Environment and Development).
Session three: 17.30 - 19.00, Thursday 17 September, Darwin Lecture Theatre.