• Lecture Series
Vyjayanthi V. Rao

7. Eric Wolf Lecture – Slum as Theory: A Speculative World History

Vyjayanthi V. Rao. The rise of mega-cities across both the developed and the developingworld coincides with the dominance of speculative, finance capital as the principlemode of capital accumulation. Yet there is a distinction between the mega-cities of thedeveloped world and those of the developing world. The difference hinges on thetheorization of the “slum” as the material artifact and articulator of relations of power,political force, economic processes, and contemporary engagements with nature.In both cases, the slum becomes shorthand for working through histories of speculationor the different ways in which abstract, digital capital flows are shaping contemporarycities’ landscapes and cultures.


In this lecture Vyjayanthi V. Rao explores the ethnographic possibilities revealed by the slum as a unit of analysis through which to demonstrate the contingency of contemporary capitalist experiences of social relations, markets, and political arrangements across different locations. In the spirit of Eric Wolf’s call for visualizing societies “in their mutual interrelationships and interdependencies in space and time,” she takes the slum as a point of departure and a unit of analysis arising from a mode of production dominated by finance capitalism. In other words, she reads it as marked by “lines of tension, contradiction and fracture” and exposed to the “pressures generated in the larger fields of interaction” that surround it, as Wolf puts in his 1997 preface to “Europe and the People Without History.” Rao’s view of the slum as theory parallels Eric Wolf’s focus on the movement of commodities and labor in earlier periods of capitalist expansion. Tracing these histories alongside the emergence of the slum as a major analytic and ethnographic artifact of globalization theory, Rao returns to one of Wolf‘s key insights that “more ethnography [and history] is required precisely because we cannot know the answers on theoretical grounds alone” and explore its further possibilities.

Vyjayanthi V. Rao is Assistant Professorof Anthropology at the New School for Social Research, NewYork. She works on cities after globalization, specifically on the intersections of urban planning, design art, violence, and speculation in the articulation of the contemporary global city. She is the author of numerous articles on these topics and is completing a book manuscript titled “The Speculative City.”


Aula Universitätscampus AAKH
Universität Wien
Alserstraße 2, Hof 1
1090 Wien

Die Diskussion zum Vortrag mit Vyjayanthi V. Rao findet am Folgetag, 22. November 2011, statt.
Zeit: 16:00 – 18:00 Uhr
Ort: IFK

Eine Kooperation des IFK mit dem Institut für Sozialanthropologie (ISA) der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften und dem Institut für Kultur- und Sozialanthropologie der Universität Wien.