The European Journal of Development Research

, Volume 30, Issue 2, pp 276–296 | Cite as

Urban Livelihoods in Slums of Chennai: Developing a Relational Understanding

  • Tara Saharan
  • Karin Pfeffer
  • Isa Baud
Original Article


As South Asia urbanizes, urban poverty is becoming more important in the development agenda. Many slums in India have existed for decades, despite multiple policies and programmes for reducing urban poverty. This article reveals the diversity of slums as outcomes linked to their internal development and their relations to the city’s macro-economic policies and institutional landscape. The focus is on the way these relations shape opportunities and constraints of households’ livelihoods over time in two slum settlements of Chennai. The research uses mixed methods to show how outcomes for households are closely linked to the settlement history, institutions and city region of which they are a part of. The article argues that slum development models and policies should promote relational understandings of slum areas to influence policies towards more effective support for reducing poverty among residents.


Chennai slums urban livelihoods relational historical 

Alors que l’Asie du Sud s’urbanise, la pauvreté urbaine devient plus importante dans le programme de développement. De nombreux bidonvilles existent depuis des décennies en Inde, malgré des multiples politiques et programmes visant à réduire cette pauvreté. Cet article révèle la diversité des bidonvilles comme résultant de leur développement interne, et de leurs relations avec les politiques macroéconomiques et les paysages institutionnels des villes où elles sont situées. L’accent est mis sur la façon dont ces relations forment des opportunités et des contraintes pour les ménages, influençant leurs moyens de subsistance au fil du temps, dans deux bidonvilles à Chennai. La recherche utilise des méthodes mixtes pour montrer comment les issus des ménages sont étroitement liés à l’histoire du peuplement, aux institutions et à la région de la ville à laquelle ils appartiennent. L’article démontre que les modèles et politiques pour le développement des bidonvilles devraient favoriser la compréhension relationnelle de ces zones, afin d’influencer les politiques en faveur d’un soutien plus efficace dans la réduction de la pauvreté chez les résidents.



This research was carried out in the context of the EU-FP7 project Chance2Sustain: Urban Chances, City Growth and the Sustainability Challenge (Project no. 244828), with EADI as the lead partner of the project. We are thankful to our research assistants for the fieldwork and Tofin for the pictures. We are grateful to Hebe Verrest, Linnet Taylor and Nicky Pouw for their inputs on the earlier drafts of this article as well as the reviewers for the thorough reviews. We also thank all the respondents for their valuable time especially the residents of Anna Nagar and Kamaraj Nagar.


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Copyright information

© European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes (EADI) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human Geography, Planning and InternationalUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.AmsterdamThe Netherlands

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