UCL Urban Laboratory


Writing across diverse urban contexts: Informality in Tallinn, Bafatá & Berlin

18 March 2015, 6:00 pm–8:00 pm

Comparative urbanism

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Exhibition Room, G07 Pearson Building, Gower Street, University College London, London WC1E 6BT

Urban research has long related informality to a lack of state capacity or a failure of formal institutions. This assumption not only lacks attention to the heterogeneous logics and relations through which informality is produced by multiple actors in- and outside of the state, it has also created a dividing line between states. Whereas some states are understood to manage urban development through a coherently functioning state apparatus, others presumably fail to regulate. To unmake and reframe such understandings this paper offers both a theoretical discussion and an empirical exploration of the ways in which informality is infused in processes of governance in cities across the globe.

Based on a comparison of three case studies in Tallinn (Estonia), Berlin (Germany) and Bafatá (Guinea-Bissau), we suggest that if we seek to account for the similarities and differences in the informalization of cities in the north and the south we need to reconsider the role of states. More particularly, our line of argumentation focuses on the ways in which local state agencies are entangled in the workings of informality. Herby we work towards a more relational understanding of informality that is attuned to the multiple roles adopted by different actors involved in urban processes and the power relations that are mobilized therein in order to pursue two aims. On the one hand, we seek to show that state institutions shape urban development through everyday negotiations, legal incoherencies and regulatory ambiguities rather than coherently functioning institutions. On the other hand, we explore alternative forms of rule and institutions that exist beyond the state and govern people's lives alongside the state. It follows from these two perspectives that allegedly informal processes can similarly be understood as 'formalities', while what appears to be formal at first sight might work through multiple informal relations.

Urban Salon event seminar with Hanna Hilbrandt (Open University); Susana Neves Alves (UCL); and Tauri Tuvikene (UCL).

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Image: Tallinn, Bafatá and Berlin