Rethinking Poverty Landscapes: Housing the Contingent Life Course in Lima’s Periphery


Mencoff Hall 205

Kristin Skrabut, Assistant Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy, Tufts University

Abstract: This talk explores the gender, kinship, and life course dynamics giving shape to Lima’s sprawling and pockmarked urban peripheries. Lima’s peripheral settlements are popularly read as sites of “extreme poverty,” emblematic of the intractable inequality and government incapacity that has once again erupted in political unrest. In academic circles, these areas have alternatively been interpreted as spatializations of grassroots initiative, family growth, and entrepreneurship, inspiring some of the most influential international housing policies to date. Though both these framings offer important insights, in this talk I argue we should read the landscape differently. Drawing on a decade of ethnographic engagements with residents and development agents in Lima’s most recently founded “self-help” housing settlement, I show that a “contingent life course” perspective – which considers institutions, aspirations, and uncertainties – provides a better vantage from which to understand the dynamics driving urban development and reveals social phenomena that simultaneously produce and escape conventional demographic survey instruments.

Bio: Kristin Skrabut is a cultural anthropologist and Assistant Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy at Tufts University. Her research broadly investigates poverty, statecraft, and kinship in urban Latin America. Her first book, Unruly Domestications: The Politics of Poverty and Family in Lima, is scheduled for release at Texas University Press in 2024. Stemming from this work, she is currently developing two new research projects: one on how biometric and digital technologies are remaking state-society relations in Peru, and another on the intimate politics of milk. She received her PhD in anthropology from Brown University where she was an active member of the PSTC.

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