Can the Slumdweller Speak? James Joyce and Mediating Dublin Slum Discourse

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The concern of this article surrounds the discourse of recent calls by elite researchers to do away with the “s-word,” to quote Mike Davis’s endorsement of Alan Mayne’s (2017) groundbreaking new study. I take issue not with their critique of the idea of the “slum,” even if others have pointed out limitations in their visions (Harris 2018), but rather in their essentialist assumption: accepting as ontological fact the pre-given existence of a geographical body identified by others as a “slum,” they only disagree that this categorization does not accurately represent the “essence” of that space. Their critical discourse may resolve issues with the particular conceptions and stereotypes associated with the term, “slum,” but it does not effectively challenge the theoretical and practical foundations on which that term rests. Against current post-slum calls for a more accurate representation of these spaces, I conclude with a call to abandon the logic underpinning both slum and post-slum discourses of the twenty-first century: the assumption of a bounded and identifiable space with “naturally” representable interests. To demonstrate this thesis, I turn to a reading of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) as a means to re-orient researchers’ relationship with mediating and re-presenting the slum. This reading of Ulysses calls for researchers to embrace a diverse set of subject formations, modes of habitation, and fluid residencies that can no longer be contained within the ontologies of slum and post-slum discourses.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)520-532
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Urban History
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • James Joyce
  • Ulysses
  • decoloniality
  • postcolonialism
  • slum
  • subaltern


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