Urban informality

Urban informality is a huge topic. I have included an annotated bibliography on sources below. And, since I have opened up this site to public access, I have moved direct links to articles to a password-protected page.

A brief introduction to the issue: many government officials around the world complain about ‘illegal’ residences and business activity in their cities. However, there is a sharp difference between ‘illegal’ in the sense of dangerous criminal behavior, and ‘illegal’ in the sense of people doing things that law-makers don’t want them to do. Note that the law-makers, almost by definition, are the upper class in any city. Sometimes they just pass a law or a regulation to stop something they don’t like–even if that law is really harmful to the livelihoods of most of the urban population. Since the elite set the rules, they can declare when others break the rules. By classifying that activity as ‘illegal,’ elites can disparage whole populations by associating them with criminality. Immigration in the US is a vivid example: thousands of people take tremendous risks to get into the US simply to make a living. By writing rules against them, xenophobic Americans feel entitled to call human beings “illegals.”

Since about 1985, urban scholars have made a distinction between dangerous-illegal (criminal) activities and ‘illegal’ activities that people do in order to survive and get along each day. The latter type is called informal. Since about 1995, urban scholars have gone one step further: they have documented how urban elites manage the boundary between activities that are considered formal versus informal–often for the benefit of upper classes.

Commented bibliography on urban informality:
Because of your interest in informality I have compiled a fairly long list. I put it in chronological order because the scholarship really does build incrementally over 40 years.

Turner, John. 1968. “Housing priorities, settlement patterns and urban development in modernizing countries.” Journal of the American Institute of Planners 34:354–363.
COMMENT: John Turner was always a better activist than writer, but this was one of his best articles because here he focuses on concepts and analysis, not just rhetoric. Now it is difficult to find a hardcopy of this article.

Hart, Keith. 1973. “Informal income opportunities and urban employment in Ghana.” Journal of modern African studies 11(1):61–89.
COMMENT: this article is not about housing. However it is generally regarded as the origin of the use of the term ‘informal’ to refer to activities that remain unrecognized by ‘formal’ regimes. Note that I may focus on the built environment (mostly housing), but that the condition of informality pertains to many aspects of poorer households, including jobs/livelihoods, education, and healthcare as well.

Perlman, Janice E. 1976. The myth of marginality: Urban poverty and politics in Rio de Janeiro. Berkeley: University of California Press.
COMMENT: based on fieldwork in Rio de Janeiro in the late 1960s, Perlman challenges the prevailing discourse about ‘marginals’ and ‘conditions of urban marginality’ by showing how favelados are economically and politically relevant.

Ward, Peter M. 1982. Self-help housing : A critique. Bronx, N.Y.: Mansell.
COMMENT: Peter Ward has been doing great work in Texas for decades, often collaborating with other scholars. This 1982 book challenges John Turner’s argument that poor people are just building their own housing and need ‘freedom to build’–an expression which was the title of Turner’s most famous book. For example, informal housing is often professionally built by contractors. Secondly, informal housing is not necessarily owner-occupied. Some is built speculatively, so households are renting illegal apartments/houses. Unfortunately in Latin America the prevailing term for informal housing development is “autoconstruction,” which implies owner/occupancy, individual choice, and thus individual responsibility for informal development. Ward’s book is an edited volume and I highly recommend the article by Hans Harms.

Perlman, Janice. 1988. “Six misconceptions about squatter settlements.” Development: seeds of change 4:40–44.
COMMENT: again, Perlman provided a key reference-work for clarifying our understanding of squatter settlements.

Soto, Hernando de, and Instituto Libertad y Democracia (Lima Peru). 1989. The other path: The invisible revolution in the Third World. New York: Harper & Row.
COMMENT: the most famous book about informal urban development and business, unfortunately. Endorsed by world leaders including Nixon and Clinton. Includes great fieldwork conducted by the ILD in Lima in the early 1980s, but the take-away message is that poorer households are burdened with red tape, and the self-evident solution is to just cut the red tape–deregulate, formalize, and privatize. De Soto does not mull over why there are so many barriers to formalization. He does mention bigotry against indios, and mentions a bit of rent-seeking (bureaucrats who want bribes). But he does not explain the underlying political logic which causes so many urban regimes to resist the call to take responsibility for extending their “regime of care” in a way that might be beyond their financial means, and might undermine their legitimacy. Regardless of how I feel about de Soto’s work, it is so important that you need to read it.

Bromley, Ray. 1990.“A new path to development? The significance and impact of Hernando de Soto’s ideas on underdevelopment, production, and reproduction.” Economic geography 66(4):328–348.
COMMENT: an article that critiques de Soto.

Yiftachel, Oren. 1995. “The dark side of modernism: Planning as control of an ethnic minority.” in Postmodern cities and spaces, edited by Sophie Watson and Katherine Gibson. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
COMMENT: This article is not directly about urban informality, but it helped reorient how we think about the function of urban planning. If we accept that urban informality is produced by the urban regime, then planning agencies and practices are the specific instruments use for this process. Planners delimit formal space in a way that is less-extensive than the city itself; the area “beyond the pale” is therefore produced and maintained as informal space, a zone of far greater risk and insecurity. “Pale” was an old term for “palisade,” or spiked wooden fence that separated the enclosed/protected/privileged village from the unenclosed/insecure/low-class areas in early medieval Europe.

Pamuk, Ayse. 1996.“Convergence trends in formal and informal housing markets: the case of Turkey.” Journal of Planning Education and Research, 16:103.
COMMENT: USP’s very own Ayse Pamuk made an important contribution by pointing out that not only do informal areas have active housing markets, not only do they parallel formal housing markets, but in fact they are semi-integrated with each other.

Bayat, Assef. 2000. “From ‘dangerous classes’ to ‘quiet rebels:’ Politics of the urban subaltern in the global South.” International sociology 15(3):539–557.
COMMENT: Bayat has written extensively on Iran, but this article is one of his most-cited because he develops some extremely pithy ideas about “the quiet encroachment of the ordinary” in contrast to municipal complaints about the ‘abnormal’ or ‘deviant’ behavior of people who supposedly choose to break the law.

Auyero, Javier. 2000. “The hyper-shantytown: Neo-liberal violence(s) in the Argentine slum.” Ethnography 1(1):93–116.
COMMENT: Auyero focuses on Argentina as Bayat does on Iran; and both speak to a larger audience and issue. In the inaugural issue of Ethnography, Auyero draws on Loic Wacquant’s idea of “hyper-ghettos” to describe an intensified condition of deprivation in some of the informal communities of Buenos Aires. As I mentioned in class, Manuel Castells once quipped, “At least industrial capitalism used to exploit the poor by paying them as wage-laborers. Now, whole populations are economically disconnected and treated as irrelevant.” Auyero details this process.

Graham, Stephen, and Simon Marvin. 2001. Splintering urbanism: networked infrastructures, technological mobilities, and the urban condition. London ; New York: Routledge.
COMMENT: My discussion about “breaking the modernist bargain” comes from this work. While Chadwick (and then the Shaftesbury Report) convinced wealthier urbanites to pay up and fund comprehensive urban networks, more recent technologies have made it possible to break that bargain. Alas, this book is now rare and hard to find.

Appadurai, Arjun. 2002. “Deep democracy: urban governmentality and the horizon of politics.” Public culture 14(1):21–47.
COMMENT: I presented NGOs as problematic during class. Here is an optimistic portrayal of NGOs that are learning an alliance method of extending their reach and leverage. It may be useful to build a theory of the Arab Spring/Occupy movements on Appaduai’s ideas.

Roy, Ananya. 2003. City requiem, Calcutta: Gender and the politics of poverty. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
COMMENT: This is Ananya Roy’s first book, based on her dissertation research in Kolkata. Here she contributes three key concepts to informality-theory: 1) she takes a feminist approach to understanding urban spaces and livelihoods; 2) she makes the urban regime very visible and explicit, including the clientilistic co-optation of informal communities; and 3) she identifies the process of ‘unmapping,’ the removal of data as part of the process of maintaining informality.

Roy, Ananya, and Nezar AlSayyad. 2004. Urban informality : transnational perspectives from the Middle East, Latin America, and South Asia. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books.
COMMENT: in this edited volume a number of leading scholars got together and collectively reframed the discussion about urban informality. This volume contains key essays by each editor (Roy and Alsayyad), as well as Peter Ward, Ray Blomley, and Janice Perlman.

Davis, Mike. 2004. “Planet of slums: Urban involution and the informal proletariat.” New Left Review v26.
For better or worse, this is the most famous article about urban informality for the general public. Two years later Davis turned this into a best-selling book. This article, with the same name, covers all the main points he covers in the book. Davis’ main point is to draw a parallel between Engels’ 1844 description of Manchester and current conditions in informal settlements across most of the world today. Whereas the English aristocracy was spared revolutionary overthrow because of imperially-financed economic growth, countries that are only now urbanizing and industrializing don’t have any colonies to draw from. Thus, we are doomed!! But seriously, he does a decent job of characterizing the concept of urban informality, and since this is one of the only texts on urban informality you might find in an airport bookstore, you have to seriously consider how it frames the overall debate.

Roy, Ananya. 2005. “Urban informality: toward an epistemology of planning.” Journal of the American Planning Association 71(2):147–58.
COMMENT: Here Roy seeks to make informality accessible and American (and other ‘Northern’) planners by publishing in the main professional-practice journal of planners.

Fawaz, Mona, and Bishwapriya Sanyal. 2007. “The transformation of an olive grove: an institutional perspective from Beirut, Lebanon.” in Planning Institutions, Current Research in Urban and Regional Studies, edited by Niraj Verma. Oxford: Elsevier.
COMMENT: Fawaz has begun to produce excellent research on Beirut and the urban role of Hezbollah. The builds on this two years later in a 2009 special issue of Planning Theory.

Fawaz, Mona. 2009. “Hezbollah as urban planner? Questions from and to planning theory.” Planning Theory 8(4):323–334.
COMMENT: Consistent with Tariq Ali’s description of Hezbollah, but more detailed. Above all else, she complicates the concept of urban regimes by showing how Hezbollah governs urbanization in south Beirut.

Yiftachel, Oren. 2009. “Theoretical notes on ‘Gray Cities’: The coming of Urban Apartheid?” Planning Theory 8(1):88–100.
COMMENT: in a special issue of Planning Theory focused on urban informality, Yiftachel describes how “gray spaces” in Israeli cities get produced ‘from below’ by disprivileged citizens, and ‘from above’ by the government itself.