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'Unplanned Wildernesses': Narrating the British Slum 1844-1951

A One-Day Interdisciplinary Conference to be held at the University of Warwick,

Saturday 19th May 2012

Keynote speaker:

Professor Seth Koven (Rutgers University)

Roundtable discussion:

Professor Gareth Stedman Jones (Queen Mary, University of London)

Professor Sally Alexander (Goldsmiths, University of London)

Dr. Emma Francis (University of Warwick)


In 1844 Friedrich Engels described the slums of Manchester as ‘unplanned wildernesses’; stating that no ‘human being would willingly inhabit such dens’ (The Condition of the Working Class in England). This emphasis on the bewildering experience of the slum – the ‘maze of lanes, blind alleys and back passages’ – as well as the slum’s contaminating presence in the Victorian city, is part of a wider dialogue concerning working-class neighbourhoods throughout the nineteenth century that incorporated the writings of such figures as Charles Dickens and the sociologist Charles Booth. These narratives of disgust and horror but also excitement and attraction maintained a significant effect on the depiction and treatment of the slum well into the twentieth century.

‘Unplanned Wildernesses’: Narrating the British Slum 1844 – 1951 invites papers from a range of disciplines to address the changing and multiple narrative of the slum from the period between the German publication of Friedrich Engels’ The Condition of the Working Class in England (1844) and the election of Winston Churchill’s Conservative government in 1951 when thereafter Britain’s remaining slums were cleared for high rise council flats. Questions to be considered will include, what do representations of the slum reveal about constructions of class, gender and race? How did public health policy transform our understanding of this space and the lives of its inhabitants? How do we understand the relationship between visitors and residents of the slum?






Slum Picture