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Informality, Transgression and Urban Governance

Veronica Crossa, Vicente Ugalde and Jill Wigle

Recent work on urban governance has shown an interest in understanding both the instruments and practices of different actors in the experience of policies and their effects on the overall functioning of a city. Focusing on the daily practices of these actors within the context of particular urban spaces and policies, this work has highlighted the multiple ways in which practices articulate with – or not - formalized norms, regulations and policy instruments. In fact, many have argued that it is precisely these unregulated practices that facilitate the delivery and functioning of public services (like transportation, waste) and other urban policies, the use of public space (like street vending), and the provision of housing.

This panel invites papers that seek to draw from and contribute to debates regarding these complex articulations of formality/informality and related practices and policy instruments. Rather than viewing them as residual practices or outliers within a formalized system of regulatory activities, we search for papers that can contribute to a broader understanding of urban governance processes of cities both within the global north and south. The panel proposes to explore urban governance through a comparative lens, with an emphasis on how informal practices are linked to the organization and negotiation of social relations, space and the exercise of power in cities. Rather than viewing informality as a kind of regulatory transgression confined to the practices of non-state actors, this panel seeks to expand this analysis by exploring comparative geographies of governance and informality in various sectors (e.g. housing, vending) and settings (e.g. Mexico City, Vancouver). We take as a starting point that informality reflects state-society relations in different political, economic and social contexts. Panelists are asked to explore the role of the state in producing and negotiating informality as part of everyday urban governance, that include state transgressions and community resistance. Some of the questions we seek to address in this panel are:

  • How can we theorize informality in cities, moving beyond definitions that confine such practices to particular places or specific people?
  • How does governance vary across different cities both within the so-called global north and south? Can we talk about a comparative geography of governance? Of informality?
  • What forms do (in)formal practices take within different urban contexts? Under what conditions (material and symbolic) do different practices of informality emerge?
  • How do informal practices help us understand the operation of urban public services (both from the side of public actors as well as the recipients of those services)?
  • Which sorts of practices come close to or diverge from the expectations of the policies, including their regulation and formalized instruments? Furthermore, do these practices vary significantly within different cities?
  • To what extent does a government´s performance and its policies depend on “less” formalized practices?