Problems of poverty and democratisation, and the way they can mutually impact, are among the most pressing concerns of our times. Can the ever-widening gap between rich and poor both within countries and worldwide be reduced? How can those most seriously affected -- the poor themselves -- become active in this process? Has the recent wave of democratisation improved their chances of doing so? What can be done by donor agencies and non-governmental organisations of the North and the South to provide meaningful assistance? These are among the questions addressed in this book. Its focus is on those sections of the population where these problems have become most acute, i.e. the inhabitants of 'marginalised' settlements in large cities -- the ever-sprawling favelas, poblaciones, bidonvilles, quartiers pr'caires, slums, and squatter areas.Field research was carried out in four countries -- Brazil, Chile, Ivory Coast and Kenya -- based on a systematic comparative design involving two cities and four marginalised settlements in each country. The methods included surveys, interviews and observation in close cooperation with local social and political groups. In this way, a unique comparative 'view from below' of recent developments and their consequences for the urban poor emerges.The research focused on the national and local contexts and the specific forms of social structure, interest organisation, political culture and political participation. The results make clear some of the common elements and causes, but also the great diversity of political cultures within which the 'active poor' seek to improve their lives. Here lie also some of the concrete possibilities for effective support by external agencies.