This article is an intervention in the epistemologies and methodologies of urban studies. It seeks to understand and transform the ways in which the cities of the global South are studied and represented in urban research, and to some extent in popular discourse. As such, the article is primarily concerned with a formation of ideas —‘subaltern urbanism’— which undertakes the theorization of the megacity and its subaltern spaces and subaltern classes. Of these, the ubiquitous ‘slum’ is the most prominent. Writing against apocalyptic and dystopian narratives of the slum, subaltern urbanism provides accounts of the slum as a terrain of habitation, livelihood, self-organization and politics. This is a vital and even radical challenge to dominant narratives of the megacity. However, this article is concerned with the limits of and alternatives to subaltern urbanism. It thus highlights emergent analytical strategies, utilizing theoretical categories that transcend the familiar metonyms of underdevelopment such as the megacity, the slum, mass politics and the habitus of the dispossessed. Instead, four categories are discussed — peripheries, urban informality, zones of exception and gray spaces. Informed by the urbanism of the global South, these categories break with ontological and topological understandings of subaltern subjects and subaltern spaces.