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In this article, we present a perspective on the interaction between formal and informal institutions in spatial planning in which they transform each other continuously, in processes that can be described and analyzed as ongoing reinterpretations. The effects of configurations and dialectics are often ambiguous, only partially observable, different in different domains and at different times. By means of analyses of key concepts in planning theory and practice, this perspective is illustrated and developed. Finally, we analyze transformation options in planning systems, emphasizing the limits of formal institutions in transforming formal/informal configurations, and stressing the importance of judgment and conflict.
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This is a revised personal version of the article published in Administration & Society. Please cite as: Van Assche, K., R. Beunen and
M. Duineveld (2013) Formal/ informal dialectics and the self- transformation of spatial planning systems: an exploration.
Administration and Society 46 (6): 654-683:
Formal/Informal Dialectics and the Self-Transformation of Spatial Planning
Systems An Exploration
Kristof Van Assche, Raoul Beunen and Martijn Duineveld
Kristof van Assche is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Extension, University of Alberta, Canada; Visiting Associate Professor at the
Communication & Innovation Studies, Wageningen University, The Netherlands & Associate Professor at the ZEF/Center for Development Research,
Bonn University, Germany | Raoul Beunen is Assistant Professor Environmental Governance at the Open University, the
Netherlands and at Wageningen University | Martijn Duineveld is Assistant Professor at the Cultural Geography Group at
Wageningen University, the Netherlands
In this article, we present a perspective on the interaction between formal and informal institutions in
spatial planning in which they transform each other continuously, in processes that can be described and
analyzed as ongoing reinterpretations. The effects of configurations and dialectics are often ambiguous,
only partially observable, different in different domains and at different times. By means of analyses of
key concepts in planning theory and practice, this perspective is illustrated and developed. Finally, we
analyze transformation options in planning systems, emphasizing the limits of formal institutions in
transforming formal/informal configurations, and stressing the importance of judgment and conflict.
Keywords: governance, property rights, institutions, evolution, innovation
Much has been said about formality and informality,
also in spatial planning (e.g. Gualini, 2001; Verma
2007; Cars et al., 2002). We do not intend to
summarize or recapitulate these discussions, but
rather present a new conceptual frame on formality
and informality in spatial planning, incorporating
insights from transition studies, post- structuralist
planning theory, new institutional economics, and
social systems theory. We develop a perspective on
planning institutions that prefers to speak of formal/
informal configurations, as the combination of formal
and informal together has certain effects. The impact
of formal or informal institutions separately can often
not be discerned. We speak of a dialectics of formal
and informal institutions because they continuously
shape and reshape each other (cf. Lindell, 2010;
March & Olson, 1989; Pejovic, 1999). We discuss
several key concepts in planning from this
perspective: property rights, the roles of plans and
planners, the role of organizations, and participatory
planning. By means of these conceptual analyses, we
develop our perspective on institutional dialectics in
planning further, bringing us to a series of
observations on the analysis of planning situations
and the potential for reform.
Since Aristotle, informality has had a bad name. In the
western philosophical tradition form was opposed to
matter, and informality was on the side of matter, of
the unstructured, of that what remains beyond the
grasp of human cognition. Indeed, what makes
something into what it is, and simultaneously makes it
recognizable for outside observers, was the form
(Roelants, 1993). Even long after Aristotle and the
Aristotelean revivals were passé, the association
between informality and irrationality and chaos
lingered on in the collective consciousness (Fuller,
1964). The 17th century brought new modes of
cognition, and the 18th century introduced the
models of politics and law we still recognize as the
basis of the modern, democratic and capitalist state
(North, 1990; Weber 1904). In modern political
theory, the rule of law emerged as both a precondition
and a result of stable political institutions (Luhmann
,2008; Easterly, 2006; Commons, 1924). Political and
legal institutions were understood as tools to
structure the community and make it more knowable.
They made society more rational in this double sense
of structuring and bringing within the purvey of
cognition. What was not visible to law and politics
could not be restructured in manners considered
more rational (Raz, 1979). Since a rational state also
promoted morality, informality became also
associated with immorality (Fuller, 1964; Easterly,
What we know now as informal institutions has to be
understood against this background. The chain of
associations linking informality with invisibility,
irrationality, immorality and (fear of) chaos still taints
the discussions. Even when informality is celebrated,
there is often a silent reference to a negative standard
interpretation of informality of the sort just
summarized. Fear of dis- association of the social
fabric perfuses many discussions. Simultaneously, the
broken promises of modernism have inspired a
cynicism with formal institutions (Lindell, 2010), with
the power of laws, policies and plans to create a better
world (e.g. Scott, 1998; Pressman & Wildavsky, 1973;
Luhmann, 1990). In development studies, policy
studies, environmental studies, economics and other
fields and disciplines, discussions often revolve
around the positive and negative sides of formality
and informality, with one side arguing for an
understanding of informality as the natural way of
organizing things and formality as a usually
oppressive exception in history (Scott, 1985; 1998;
Platteau, 1994; Roy, 2005), while the other side
argues for an evolution towards formality (March &
Olson, 1989; de Soto, 2000; Seabright, 2010). The
latter position embodies the spirit of modernism, and
formalization is seen as politically and economically
rational, as bringing prosperity and justice to people.
The proponents of informality have many reasons to
embrace the concept. They can be disappointed with
the results of modernist development strategies
(Jacobs, 1961), they can focus on positive results of
alternative coordination mechanisms (Easterly,
2006), or simply believe in plurality as the fundament
of society, reality and thus regulation (e.g. von Benda-
Beckmann, 2002).
We believe it is essential to take a distance from the
old Aristotelean framing of formality and informality,
and from its line of transformations in European
intellectual history, if we want to come to a
productive understanding of informality. We believe,
with the neo- institutional economists (North, Ostrom,
Greiff, Eggertsson, Easterly) that formal institutions
emerge out of informal institutions under certain
conditions, and that their benefits crucially depend on
various contexts. We also believe, in line with Helmke
& Levitsky and a tradition of transition scholars
(Ledeneva, Grzymala- Busse, Allina- Pisano, Verdery)
that it is more fruitful to investigate the interactions
between formal and informal institutions, or, in
Platonic terms, their dialectics, since formal and
informal can be understood as shaping each other
conceptually and functionally. In the spirit of social
systems theory (Luhmann, Seidl, Fuchs, Teubner), we
consider the ascendancy of formal institutions in
European history intimately connected with the
evolution towards higher levels of functional and
organizational differentiation: specialized social
systems can only function if they can rely on many
unknown others and this often works best with
formal coordination mechanisms (Greif 2007; Fuchs,
2001; Teubner, 1988). Even so, in many situations
several rule- sets are available to coordinate actions
and decisions (Bendor, 1985). The distinction formal/
informal has to be made each time a decision is taken.
In some cases, formality will be linked to state
policies, laws and their enforcement apparatus, while
other times the formal coordination option refers to
rules that are not written down, that are restricted to
a certain community, group or organization, but still
count as the rules sanctioned by that community
(Eisenstadt, 1984). Formal institutions, then, are the
rules that are seen by the actors as the ones that are
supposed to govern interaction in the given situation.
This position has some implications that have to be
mentioned at the outset. It means that some rules that
are written down, but not known to the actors, cannot
be considered formal institutions. We speak of dead
institutions. One can think of forgotten rules, of rules
that were not communicated in society and of rules
that are not considered rules, but stipulations
interpreted as signs of intentions different from
governing. This implies that there is a sliding scale
between formal institutions and dead institutions,
with dead institutions assuming the role of
institutions that cannot be taken seriously as
coordination tools, and formal institutions as rules
that could possibly be considered real (cf Ellickson,
1991). Such sliding scale is not a theoretical problem,
since the distinction between formal and informal is a
labeling that takes place with each and every decision.
A second implication is that neither formal
institutions nor dead institutions can be considered
the ones that necessarily bring forth the greatest
public good as defined in the community. The formal,
as that what is supposed to govern interaction, does
not necessarily represent a negotiated balance
between stakeholders, and the ‘supposed’ does not
necessarily refer to an enforcing or expecting
authority that is legitimate, capable, rational, or well-
intended (Casson et al., 2010). It is possible that the
choice in a situation to duck the rule considered
formal is a choice for an informal coordination
mechanism that is perceived to be more efficient or
effective in producing something considered good by
the community (Helmke & Levitsky, 2004). Eluding
formal coordination can have many reasons, and the
same is true for producing or enforcing formal
institutions (Scott, 1985; Ellickson, 1991). Thus,
formal and informal do not necessarily stand for
public versus private goods (Kononeko & Moshe,
One can say then that it is not always possible to
distinguish between formal and informal institutions.
In some situations this is because there is only one
coordination mechanism observed. In other situations
a simple distinction might be irrelevant because there
are many coordination alternatives (Rose- Ackerman,
1999). What is considered formal in one group might
not have that force of expectation in a different one. In
decision- situations various groups might be around
the table or various identifications (and associated
expectations) might vie for primacy with individual
participants. A formality in a subgroup may be
informal in a larger group one is part of; what is
formal for a lower level governmental actor might be
informal for a higher level actor or a different one at
the same level. In each case, the labeling of a certain
coordination mechanism as appropriate, as the most
important expectation is a matter of interpretation of
the situation, and these interpretations become
performative. In other words: the interpretations of
the expectations in a decision- situation steer the
thoughts and actions of the participants and have real
effects (Howard- Grenville, 2006; Seidl, 2005;
Czarniawska, 2008). The fight over formality is then a
matter of power, and the most powerful actors have
the most chance to define the situation and the
associated expectations (Bendor, 1985). In other
words, power creates formality, and the expectations
of powerful actors cannot be ignored by the others.
In complex societies marked by functional
differentiation, specifically the ones that developed
into democracies, the state is supposed to have a
monopoly on the use of force, while both the state and
citizens are bound by the law in their actions
(Luhmann, 1990; Tyler, 1990). Laws, policies and
plans were thus endowed with the power of the state,
since they were the product of governmental actors.
In most democratic theories, the formal institutions
governing the state are expected to be written down,
and are supposed to represent a negotiated balance of
interests (Whitehead, 2002; Wilson, 2005). Thus, a
non- state actor does not have the same legitimacy as
a state actor in defining a situation and its
expectations, and the printed and proclaimed rules of
state actors became commonly seen as formal
institutions (Verdery, 2003).
However, the internal complexity of the state, with
many often competing state actors, and regulatory
systems that require discretion and interpretation
(Van Dijk & Beunen, 2009; Griffiths, 2003), makes this
equation of paper (state- backed) rules and formal
institutions untenable (cf. already Pressman &
Wildavsky, 1973; Axelrod, 1986). Moreover, many
states do not function according to their own stated
principles, and free market, democratic
representation, and rule of law are usually imperfect
(de Soto, 2000; Easterly, 2006). That implies, among
other things, that there is room for private interests to
hide behind the public interest, and that formal
institutions backed by the state can be interpreted,
used, selected, combined and produced in ways that
deviate from the professed procedures or fill in
perceived gaps (cf. Platteau, 1994). The complexity
and imperfection of democratic government create
these spaces of informality (Waters, 2004; Raz, 1979;
Rosen, 2006), where both private and public goods
can be strived for by means of informal institutions
that can be described as meta- rules: rules to apply,
select, enforce, and break the rules. It also creates
places for formal institutions to die, but precisely
their former formality creates possibilities to revive
them later (Ledeneva, 1998; 2006; Allina- Pisano,
2008; Rose- Ackerman, 1999)
We will use and develop this initial conceptual frame
to look at the dialectics between formal and informal
institutions in spatial planning. Much of the work on
informal planning, urbanization, spatial development,
has been done outside the planning discipline.
Development studies (Easterly, 2006; de Soto, 2000),
environmental studies (Mannigel, 2008; Van Assche et
al., 2011a), anthropology (Verdery, 2003; Allina-
Pisano, 2008), political science (Tyler, 1990; Wilson
2005) have all contributed insights in the often
seemingly unruly processes of spatial organization
and development in the developing world. Transition
scholars have shed a light on the actual role of plans
and planning in socialist countries (Grzymala- Busse,
2010; Czaplicka et al., 2009; Ruble, 1995). Within
planning, several scholars have highlighted the limits
of planning and planning ideologies in the non-
western world. Ananya Roy analyzed with much
acuity the development of cities in India (Roy, 2009),
highlighting informality as a form of urbanization that
both enables and disables development. Berrisford
and others unveiled the potential and limitations of
legal reforms to tackle planning issues in Africa,
elucidating not only the context- specific limits of
formal institutions, but also the cost and instability
associated with institutional transformation
(Berrisford, 2011a; Benjaminsen & Sjaastad, 2008;
Watson, 2002). Mapping and preparatory studies for
planning reform can already prove de- stabilizing and
planning itself cannot be seen as a neutral, expert-
driven enterprise embodying and furthering the
common good (Throgmorton, 1996; Benjaminsen &
Sjaastad, 2008). Especially where other forms of
coordination of land use and development functioned
well for most stakeholders, and where the history of
planning is interwoven with the history of a
controversial regime, making an argument for even
basic forms of planning will be hard, and
implementation will be even harder (Van Assche et al.,
As we do not believe (taking a post- structuralist
stance here) that planners can or should prescribe
communities how to organize themselves spatially,
either in substance or procedure, we believe it is
neither possible nor desirable to prescribe the precise
role of formal institutions in spatial planning, and the
precise role of planning in society (cf. Hillier, 2002;
Van Assche & Verschraegen, 2008). It is up to a
community to decide which form of planning they
want to embrace. We do believe however, that
planners can assist in choosing and implementing
forms of planning that might work in the specific
(ecological, cultural, political, economic) context and
might bring a community closer to the form of spatial
organization found desirable (cf. Healey, 1996;
Throgmorton, 1996). Understanding the dialectics
between formal and informal institutions can be most
helpful in that role.
In spatial planning, we can distinguish as potentially
formal institutions: plans, policies, laws and
unwritten rules (deriving from tradition or from a
conscious balancing of interests). All of these can
potentially be informal (or dead). If a rule is taken as
the formal one on many occasions (often in the
context of a stable state apparatus), then it is to be
expected that it has a substantial influence on the kind
of alternative rules that develop (usually informal
then) and their pattern of application. If a rule is taken
as informal in many situations, then it is to be
expected that it adapts over time to the formal
environment (Tyler, 1990; Berrisford, 2011b). If
formal institutions coexist with informal ones, and
certainly if these alternatives are observed as
potentially influential (positively or negatively), it can
be expected that formal institutions evolve in
adaptation to that informality. Otherwise, chances are
that the formal institutions become dead ones.
The mutual shaping of formal and informal
institutions is to be considered thus a matter of
mutual adaptation in evolving governance (cf. Van
Assche et al., 2011b). In such evolution, institutions
can switch roles. Formal can become informal and
vice versa, and institutions can die. Both formal and
informal institutions, even after role reversals, do not
stop evolving. Dead institutions, if remembered and
reinterpreted, can be revived, and after that resume
their evolution as either formal or informal institution
(Humphrey, 2002). Plans can be taken from the shelf
in a new political context, they can lose or regain their
credibility and impact on spatial decision- making,
and the same applies to laws and policies affecting
spatial organization.
In the following sections, we will analyze a number of
core concepts in planning through the lens of formal/
informal dialectics (cf. Pejovic, 1999). We selected
conceptual domains where the importance of such
dialectics for spatial planning could be made visible.
We discuss the role of property rights, of plans and
planners, the role of organizations, the question of
participation vs representation.
4.1. Property rights
What counts as property rights is de facto a bundle of
use rights and restrictions, plus a set of rights and
conditions regarding transfer of what is considered
the property (Platt, 2003; Krueckeberg, 1995; Jacobs,
1991). As Thaize Challier (2009) and others showed,
the object of what is used and transferred is co-
constituted by those rules. A piece of land ‘is’
something that can be owned, built upon, sold and so
forth. Many would even argue (cf. Scott, 1998) that
the modern concept of the individual, as a person and
as a citizen coincides with and is shaped by the rise of
new property arrangements. The more positions
there are with regards to property in society, and the
easier it is to move between these positions, the more
options to choose one’s identity (Rosen, 2006;
Ellickson, 1991). This way, the owner, the owned
object, and the rules of ownership can start to define
each other.
Property of land evolved in many places into different
bundles of rights and restrictions. Anthropologists,
emphasizing the diversity of property institutions,
often prefer to speak of property relations (Verdery;
2003), and in development studies (and
environmental studies) the concept of entitlements
broadened the scope of investigations by looking at
the actual access to resources (Leach et al., 1999; Sen,
1999). Also in transition studies, the actual meaning
of formal property is revealed as dependent on a web
of other institutions (Johnson, 2001; Allina- Pisano,
2008; Verdery, 2003; Humphrey, 2002). Given this
variation in property institutions and the generally
observed interdependence and path- dependence of
institutions, what can we say in general about formal/
informal dialectics with regard to property of land?
First of all, the institutions directly addressing
property relations are only effective in governing
them in a certain configuration of other institutions
(Eggertsson, 2005; Ostrom, 2005). Informal
institutions associated with kinship, reciprocity,
equity, or governing the use of one particular
resource can affect the functioning of formal property
relations (Casson et al., 2010; Seabright, 2010;
Blomley, 2008). Conversely, laws or policies
governing access to resources, or kinship relation,
marriage, inheritance, can affect the real impact of
informal arrangements on land use (Jutting, 2003;
Easterly, 2006; Greif 2007).
Secondly, one can observe that the relations between
formal and informal institutions shaping access to and
use and transfer to land cannot be caught in a few
categories. (as in the famous Helmke & Levitsky, 2004
typology). Sometimes, it is possible to observe or
predict easily whether a certain informal institution
or practice undermines, reinforces or complements a
formal institution, but in many cases the effects are
not easily observed. The effects of formal and informal
rules on property can undermine, reinforce, or
otherwise affect other domain of rule- making that in
turn reshape the effect of the first rule (cf. Johnson,
2001; Rose, 2008). It is possible that a history of
coordination in a certain manner realigns interests
and assets in such a way that the competition in rule
making is affected (Ledeneva, 2006; Rosen, 2006).
This in turn can alter the kind of formalization opted
for, and the effects of that formalization (Grzymala
Busse, 2010). Power and asset distribution can
therefore never be excluded from the picture.
Evidence from the transition countries demonstrated
the importance of initial access to resources by
communist elites to explain the path of transition, the
formalization choices and the effects of formalization,
the impact of the new laws and policies (Gallina,
2010; Solnick, 1998; Rose, 2008; Verdery, 2003).
Spatial planning, as the coordination of policies and
practices affecting spatial organization (Van Assche &
Verschraegen, 2008), can enter the picture in several
ways. Planning is not a monopoly of planning
departments or any governmental organization.
Planning can be initiated from many sides and can
deploy mixes of formal and informal coordination
(Elster et al., 1998; Kornai et al., 2004). Where
property rights govern most relations to land, other
forms of planning, e.g. by means of plans, become
more difficult (Platt, 2003). Planning, in whatever
form, will affect both formal and informal property
relations, and the dialectics between them. Planning
can affect land values directly, it can reshape bundles
of possible uses that can later alter values (contingent
on actors taking initiative), it can also influence values
by creating more or less interesting bundles in other
places (Platt, 2003; Jacobs, 1991). These impacts on
value will change the competition for control over,
access to the land, and thus the informal property
relations that might appertain to it. Conversely,
informal practices can govern the capturing of value
after planning, and the content and form of the
planning process itself (Solnick, 1998; Kussar, 2010).
4.2. The role of plans and planners
Plans and planners do very different things in
different places. The power assigned to them varies
dramatically (Forester, 1999; Allmendinger, 2002).
That is not a problem. It merely shows different
community choices, and different pathways of
governance (Hillier, 2002). Planning can spatially
integrate various policies, and look for synergies in
that manner (Simeonova & van der Valk, 2009). It can
be more or less design- oriented, and more or less
determined by its legal tools (Platt, 2003). It can be
more or less restricted by specific configurations of
formal/ informal property rights, in other words it
can have more or less power to reshape the territory
(cf. Scott, 1998).
We argue that planning becomes easier once a role for
the planner has crystallized (Forester, 1999). Once
there is a ‘planner’ that is recognized as an actor,
planning becomes more accepted by other actors as a
way to coordinate interests, solve problems, and
reach community goals (Luhmann, 1990). If there are
traditions in a community that already resembled
what we would call planning, this context makes it
easier for planning to emerge (Verdery, 2003). The
context can be formal or informal, and the planning
that emerges can also be both (Prell et al., 2010). Civic
traditions (Putnam, 1993) that make coordination of
spatial organization more likely, can be formal or
informal. The planning that emerges can become a
new branch of government, it can engender new
regulations and laws, or not (Gunder & Hillier, 2009).
Looking at the impact of plans, once produced, one
can say that they always land somewhere, in a social,
economic, political, ecological context (Van Dijk &
Beunen, 2009). A plan, as a new formal institution,
will become part of all these contexts, and the various
effects it produces come from the formal/informal
dialectics in each of them (Stringer et al., 2006). If
plans are routinely legally undermined, politically
attacked, or ecologically and economically
implausible, their impact will be low (Ruble, 1995;
French, 1995; Platt, 2003). Usually, plans do play a
role. The new formality will be reinterpreted and used
at least in certain regards, aspects, by certain actors
(cf. Faludi, 1973). Even if plans remain largely paper
tigers, they can function as a threat for some actors, or
a potential resource for others (Gel’man, 2004; Allina-
Pisano, 2008).
If plans formally lose power, the embodied principles,
priorities and coordination mechanisms can still
remain in place (Ruble, 1995; Czaplicka et al., 2009;
Van Assche et al., 2010). Conversely, when informal
coordination mechanisms are formalized, by
rendering ad hoc gatherings or informal networks
into organizations, by turning their principles and
procedures into policies and laws, their coordinative
power can also disappear (Sievers, 2002). Not only
are there the issues of transaction costs, the costly
transition to formal arrangements (Greif, 2007), and
the risks of other informal institutions governing the
transition to formality (Gel’man, 2004). There is also
the fact that the full effects and embeddings of formal
institutions can never be observed (Luhmann, 1995).
Formalizing an institution or associated organization
is therefore destined to spark off unforeseen effects.
Moreover, if formalization entails integration in
political structures and absorption of tradition into
law (Luhmann, 2008; March & Olson, 1989), it is very
well possible that the formalization undermines the
coordinative function of the original institutions
(Gallina, 2008; Sievers, 2002).
4.3. The role of organizations
Douglass North often asserted that institutions and
organizations shape each other (e.g. 2005, 2009).
Once certain coordination mechanisms are in place,
this often leads, in modern societies, to organizational
forms that host, enable and enforce those institutions
(Seabright, 2010). One can add that the actors
themselves in the evolution of western societies also
took on the organizational form (Greif, 2007;
Luhmann, 1995). If we link back to the section on
property rights, one can say that the codification of
the relation between owner and owned, of buyer and
seller, and the coordination of actions took place more
and more in a web of interacting organizations (a
notion adumbrated by Max Weber). For North,
organizations embody the most formidable path
dependencies in governance and in economic games
(2005). The rise of the business enterprise as
organization, of the state as a web of organizations, of
law firms, banks, insurance agencies as organizations
not only tremendously extended the reach and
intensity of economic and political transactions, it also
made the evolution of society and its coordination
mechanisms dependent on the evolution of their
specialized organizations (Luhmann, 1990; Ligrom et
al., 1990; cf. Weber, 1904).
Organizations can identify with specific (sets of)
institutions, either because they are used to them and
trust them, or because they see a direct connection
with their perceived interests (Jermier et al., 1991). If
a plan embodies for an organization a negotiated
truce with competitors, the best negotiation result
achievable, then it is more likely to defend the plan
against changes and against alternative coordination
mechanisms (Peng & Heath, 1996; Ledeneva, 2008;
Gunder & Hillier, 2009). If new planning procedures
bring new actors to the table, that can cause
uncertainty, and the new procedures can thus be seen
as a threat.
While the rise of organizations is connected with the
rise of formal institutions that are state- backed and
written down, the dominance of organization in most
spatial decision- making in the West by no means
implies that informal institutions are marginalized. It
does mean that there will in all likelihood be a set of
institutions that represents itself as state expectation.
The rise of organizations, with their formal/informal
institutional microcosm, made more forms of
coordination possible (Cashdan, 1990), but it also
created a more complex formal/ informal dialectics
(Czarniawska, 2008). The effects of new formal
institutions, such as plans, are the result now of
reinterpretation within each organization (Seidl,
2005; Hernes & Bakken, 2003). In each instance, what
happens within the organization is partly opaque for
outside observers. To what extent it will resort to
informal coordination is never entirely predictable
(Luhmann, 1995).
If one looks at the formation and functioning of
businesses in transitional countries, one could see
that each country followed a different pathway of
transition, marked by different interactions between
businesses and other actors, and a different formal/
informal dialectics (Elster et al., 1998; Burawoy, 2001;
Grzymala Busse, 2010). The options for spatial
planning to interfere in corporate games hinged there
on these specific contexts (Gel’man, 2004). If business
owners were also bureaucrats, planning could either
be minimal or could be harnessed in their interest
(Verdery, 2003). If business perceived government
actors as the enemy, they resorted more often to
informal arrangements to acquire land and real estate
(Allina- Pisano, 2008). Informality then blends into
In spatial planning, organizations also show this
double role of both simplifying coordination and
making it more opaque (Wissink, 2000; Howard
Grenville, 2006). In complex societies, coordination of
actors in planning has to take the character of
coordinating organizations (Luhmann, 1990). Both in
their internal decision- making and in their
interactions with other organizations, a dialectics
between formal and informal institutions can be
observed, and the effects of the one on the other can
be manifold (Czarniawska, 2008). Since virtually
everything takes place in space, resource conflicts and
rule- making conflicts are likely to have a spatial
component, and access to the coordination of land use
in planning can be rewarding for organizations
(Berrisford, 2011a; de Soto, 2000).
For organizations involved in planning games, paper
plans can still have functions (Allina- Pisano, 2008),
and the same applies to paper laws (Fuller, 1964).
They can be paid lipservice, to maintain a facade of
formality that also suits others (Jermier et al., 1991).
They can be selectively used (Ruble, 1995) and there
are many other potential functions: hiding the
informal arrangements, serving as an alibi for
informal institutions, as a threat for later, when
application might follow (Gel’man, 2004). It can also
serve as a facade that is useful in the communication
with outsiders, e.g. foreign actors (Easterly, 2006).
The possible functions of largely paper or nearly dead
formalities can not be enumerated, because actors
will always find new uses, and some of these uses will
require opacity or selective access to information on
the actual rules of the game (Gallina, 2008; 2010). In
other words, dead institutions can be revived at any
point, since the strategic situation is always partly
unpredictable and opaque, and with that, the potential
usefulness of reviving the dead. Thus, we come back
to a point made earlier: the co- constitutive effects of
formal and informal institutions cannot be
categorized easily. The importance of organizations,
with their own formal/ informal microcosm, makes
these effects even more wide- ranging, and their
observation even more complicated (Czarniawska,
2008; March & Olson, 1989).
4.4. Participation vs. representation
Can one overcome the problems of certain
institutional arrangements by means of more direct
citizen participation? We believe there is no clear and
simple answer to the question. One could assume that
more direct inclusion of more voices in the decision-
making on spatial organization would enhance
visibility of pro’s and con’s of the existing institutional
matrix (Stringer et al., 2006). That can be true in some
cases, but in other cases, more direct participation can
reinforce formal/informal configurations that are
perceived as unfair or ineffective by much of the
population (Verdery, 2003; Suny, 1995; Van Assche et
al., 2011a). It is possible that participatory planning
gives more power to organizations that have no
interest in the public interest (Mannigel, 2008; Rydin
& Falleth, 2006), and undermines the slowly evolved
institutions of political representation (Stringer et al.,
2006; Mannigel, 2008). In addition, since the
collective will cannot be seen as and cannot be voiced
as the will of a certain number of individuals present
in political arena’s (including the planning arena)
some form of representation is necessary. The new
form of representation is in all likelihood less
subjected to the checks and balances that evolved in
many communities with representative democracies
(Stringer et al., 2006; cf. Mansfield, 1996). To stabilize
participatory structures, the actors around the table
will have to be organizations, bringing back some of
the issues of opacity and unpredictability mentioned
in the previous section.
Moreover, just as new laws or plans land in a context
that is already regulating and organizing itself in a
certain manner benefitting certain players (Rose,
2008; Ruble, 1995), new participatory structures and
procedures land in the same context (Rydin & Falleth,
2006). One cannot assume a clean slate, honest
players, and an incentive structure that will be
entirely remade as a result of open discussion and
deliberation (Hillier, 2002; Gunder & Hillier, 2009).
Participation will also be interpreted as a new formal
institution, and subjected to the same calculations as
previous formal institutions (Elster et al., 1998; Van
Assche et al., 2010). Since per definition the whole
configuration of formal and informal is not visible to
an individual actor (cf Luhmann, 1990), one cannot
predict all consequences of the new formality
(Pressman & Wildavsky, 1973), of the participatory
process. If expectations were inflated, these
unpredictabilities will undermine fragile trust in the
new institution and reduce its effectiveness in
coordinating different interests in land use and
different visions for the community (Domingo Pasto &
Beunen, 2012; Yang, 2006; Kornai & Rose- Ackerman,
2004). Or, a situation can be maintained where for
outside observers ‘participation’ takes place, while old
power structures are reproduced by means of the
plans and policies that emerge (Van Assche et al.,
2011a). Alternatively, the new arena can be
maintained as facade, legitimizing the interests of
actors benefitting the outcomes. In all these
scenario’s, existing formal/informal dialectics
determine the functioning of the new formality.
From the previous sections, it can be deduced easily
that formal/ informal dialectics in spatial planning
have effects that cannot be easily mapped, categorized
and assessed. In assessing the relations between
formal and informal institutions, it is possible, we
believe, to formulate a number of implications for
planning research and practice.
First and foremost, we would recommend planners
analyzing a specific planning system or situation to be
mindful that a set of formal institutions (plans,
policies, laws) can only be effective thanks to an
ongoing dialectics with informal institutions. What
determines functionality is the specific configuration
of formal and informal, and what has to be assessed is
the functionality with regards to a specific issue -e.g.
equitability, sustainability, inclusivity, stability, speed,
transaction costs (cf. Guha- Khasnobis et al., 2007).
Secondly, effects of formal/ informal configurations
and dialectics are often ambiguous, partly invisible, or
visible from certain perspectives only (Grzymala-
Busse, 2010; Allina- Pisano, 2008). Or, the effects are
visible much later, or only in some places, not in
others. ‘Planning’ cannot be considered one site of
observation. Planning policies have effects in many
places and many places and actors have an impact on
planning policies (Berrisford, 2011a; 2011b).
Whether a formal/informal configuration ‘works’ or
not, cannot be left to the assessment of one party,
internal or external (Lindall, 2010; Guha- Khasnobis,
2007). The effects of the ongoing dialectics between
formal and informal institutions are mediated by,
sometimes amplified by, the effects on competition
between actors. If elite competition dominates rule-
making, as was the case early on in many transition
countries (and even now in some), then the
configuration of formal and informal will be exploited,
twisted, altered by these elite players (Solnick, 1998;
Gallina, 2008; Rose- Ackerman, 1999). The rules
governing the dialectics between formal and informal,
the combination and transformation rules will also be
exploited and altered. In turn, once certain rule
configurations (and, at the next level, the rules of the
dialectics) are in place for a while, the configuration of
elites will alter (Gallina, 2010; Grzymala- Busse &
Jones Luong, 2002). Rules and roles shape each other,
and when the game is simplified by having a small
number of players, each powerful, that influence
tends to be more significant and visible (cf. North et
al., 2009).
Thirdly, when analyzing a planning system, it is
important to understand the interaction between
formal and informal institutions as continuous
reinterpretation: reinterpretation of the place of each,
their strength, compatibility, meaning. Coordination
mechanisms change in the presence of alternatives, in
a history of mutual adaptation. The players in each
situation have to interpret the strength of
expectations associated with the different
coordination mechanisms, but one can also say that
the institutions reinterpret each other, in the sense of
Niklas Luhmann’s mutually observing social systems
(Luhmann, 1995). Institutions embody a perspective,
using certain distinctions, and in that perspective,
alternative coordination mechanisms can become
visible as making different distinctions. Observation
then enables adaptation. The role of organizations in
modern governance renders this aspect of
reinterpretation more important, as organizations
necessarily reinterpret each other’s actions, motives,
adherence to rules, and advantage from rules.
Our analysis of formal/ informal dialectics has further
implications for the transformation options available
in and for planning systems. If planners, listening to
different perspectives, do assess a certain institutional
configuration less than desirable, how can alternative
arrangements be conceived and implemented? Useful
elements of an answer can be derived from a
dialectical perspective.
Bringing in ‘the community’ and its voices by means of
participation is not necessarily an answer. Sometimes
it works, sometimes it won’t (Rydin & Falleth, 2006;
Stringer et al., 2006). It will land in a context of actors
operating in formal/ informal configurations that suit
them to different degrees. This context has
consequences for the application of rules to change
the rules. In a democracy transformation options can
be expected to be more abundant than in other
political systems, but even the rules to change the
rules are part of formal/informal configurations
(Anderson, 1999; Mansfield, 1996). And these
configurations and their effects change over time.
Therefore, timing of reform is of the essence, timing
derived from accurate observation of the evolving
games between actors. As Berrisford (20011a)
pointed out, reform requires windows of
opportunities, certain points in the game where rules
and roles allow for easier intervention, when the rules
to change the rules are easier to implement.
Implementation of institutional change entails
redistribution of power, and changing power
structures requires power and understanding of
power (Rose, 2008; Elster et al., 1998).
This brings us to two oft discussed concepts in
planning theory: judgment (or phronesis in the
Aristotelean tradition) and conflict, or agonism.
Whether designed by planners or by other political
advisors, reform of planning systems can never
simply be a matter of better laws and policies, of
perfect institutional design. Deciding on timing, on
discursive coalitions, narratives, on what rule would
work where and when, takes judgment (Mansfield,
1996; Hillier, 2002; Czarniawska, 2008). It cannot
work without leadership (Mansfield, 1996). Good
judgment never follows from rules, it cannot be
replaced by rules (Gunder, 2003). Relying entirely on
formal institutions would be a generic example of
lousy judgment. Rules cannot make good rules, and
good rules cannot dictate good decisions. A logical
regression, focusing on rules to make rules to make
rules, or rules to control rules etc, does not help.
If leadership and judgment are not concentrated in
one hand, which is deemed preferable in most
communities, then conflict will enter the picture.
Rules cannot and should not exclude conflict. Allowing
conflicting judgments to play out, without
undermining the institutional framework, is useful for
many reasons (Mansfield, 1996; Gunder, 2003). It
helps in bringing more ideas and policy options to
surface (Allmendinger & Gunder, 2005), it helps in
keeping actors within the game, and it functions as
practical checks and balances (cf. Elster et al., 1998;
Anderson, 1999). Coming to a consensus is not always
possible and healthy. Rules to extinguish conflict can
have negative effects, including the reduction of
visible policy options. Most of all, they tend to
diminish the exercise of judgment, and foster reliance
on existing formal/ informal configurations without
reflection (Lindell, 2010).
In the type of approach we presented, the practical
conclusions of analysis will be different in each case.
We argue that it does not make sense to advocate
solely and simply for formalization (as de Soto, 2000),
informality (as many applied anthropologists), or for
one style of self- transformation (e.g. participation), as
these will work well or not so well depending on the
various mechanisms described above.
7. Conclusions
In this paper, we analyzed the dialectics between
formal and informal institutions in spatial planning,
arguing that formal and informal institutions co-
evolve, mutually shaping each other in a process of
continuous reinterpretation. Rather than considering
the formal and informal institutions separately, it is
the configuration and co- evolution of formal and
informal that should command the attention of
planners. Understanding the evolution of planning
systems, the effects of plans, planning policies and
laws, and the transformation options of planning
system hinges on an understanding of the formal/
informal dialectics in the various contexts spatial
planning tries to link up and coordinate. We
introduced the triangle of formal, informal and dead
institutions, arguing that they can morph into each
other, reverse roles, and can be revived. Formality is
seen as a matter of expectations, and of the
interpretation of a situation and the dominant
expectations. In complex societies, where formality
received a special association with written, state-
backed institutions, one can observe the simultaneous
creation of new informalities, under the form of meta-
rules, new spaces for interpretation and discretion.
For planners an understanding of formal/ informal
dialectics is not only useful because it gives new
insights in the roles and the tools at her disposal. It
also offers a fresh perspective on the transformation
options of the institutional framework governing
planning practice. It can improve the conceptual
frameworks used by planners to interpret a situation,
issues, qualities and possible solutions. We embarked
upon such endeavor by means of succinct analyses of
the concepts of property rights, participation, the
roles of plan and planner, and the role of
organizations, through the lens of formal/ informal
dialectics. A more comprehensive re- mapping of the
conceptual territory of planning awaits.
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... In a broad sense, formality refers to operating under a set of rules established by the state, whereas informality refers to adhering to a set of rules established by negotiation and consensus among diverse actors (Banks et al., 2020). Formality is linked to stability in the extant literature, while informality is connected to instability (Tranberg Hansen & Vaa, 2004;Van Assche et al., 2014). In urban areas of emerging economies, however, the demarcation between formal and informal settings is ever shifting and speculative (Goldman, 2011;Roy, 2005;Schindler, 2014). ...
... The two broad categories of institutional arrangements in waste management are formal and informal. Formality is associated with written, state-backed institutions, while informality coexists with metarules and spaces for interpretation and discretion (Van Assche et al., 2014). Hence, a hierarchy is established with formal as the accepted norm and informal as abnormal or substandard (Songsore & McGranahan, 1998;Turner, 1972). ...
... The town's waste management system remains inadequate, despite its ties to robust state-level institutions.Figure 1sets the collection of municipal waste just under the horizontal axis, indicating not very strong institution. The findings of this study nullify the idea that formality represents stability while informality represents volatility(Tranberg Hansen & Vaa, 2004;Van Assche et al., 2014). ...
The extensive research on waste management has primarily remained confined to metro cities and focused on economic and environmental issues. The present study explores waste management in smaller urban areas from an institutional standpoint, mapping formal and informal players onto a two‐dimensional framework: institutional type and institutional strength. The analysis is based on data accumulated through in‐depth interviews and focus group discussions in three towns of India. Despite the absence of formal acknowledgment, it establishes a continuum between formal and informal actors whose efforts to collect waste and provide public goods and services are mutually supportive. Although the informal sector is ranked lower, there is little variation in institutional strength between the formal and informal sectors. A formal‐informal hierarchy hinders informal waste collectors from moving up the value chain. The paper argues against separating the formal and informal actors in urban policy and planning. A waste management system that is formally integrated is required to extract greater economic value from waste and to strengthen the informal‐formal continuum. This should enhance both the wages and working conditions of waste workers.
... Informality has previously been studied from a static perspective, with an emphasis on the physical spaces or category of labor, such as the informal economy, informal labor, and informal settlement [40][41][42][43][44]. Recently, more research has overcome the dichotomy between formality and informality and has seen them as an inter-related and complementary unity [45,46]. The concept of "formality-informality" has frequently been taken as a starting point to study complex and dynamic urban issues and to explore the cooperation approaches between formal institutions and local residents' spontaneous practices to form effective resource allocation or practice promoting socioeconomic development [47,48]. Therefore, "formality-informality" provides an appropriate analytical framework to study the development of urban villages under the guidance of new-type urbanization, where the cognitive perspective of urban villages shifts from focusing on the physical form to focusing on "people", from being static to being dynamic, and from passively accepting urbanization to actively participating in urbanization. ...
... Compared to other urban villages of the third category, Nanshan, Jiuxi, and Yuquan exhibit a significant difference in the upgrading process. These three urban villages are all located at the junction between the scenic 47 Regarding the urban villages of the second category, the difference in the rental level ratio is relatively smaller than that of the other two categories. Among the urban villages of the second category, Liuxia and Wangyue Apartments exhibit a significantly higher ratio to their surrounding apartment communities in the growth rate of rental levels. ...
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Planning policies have greatly influenced the development of urban villages, an informal phenomenon in which rural settlements are encircled by urban environments during China’s rapid urbanization process. “The National New-type Urbanization Plan (2014–2020)” of China initiated in 2014 provides a new perspective on planning policy research on China’ urban villages. Hangzhou, a pioneer city that adopts new-type urbanization in China and combines the characteristics of rapid urban growth, mountainous urban terrains, and a long cultural history, serves as a typical case study to compare the planning policies responding to the informality of urban villages guided by traditional and new-type urbanization. This study employed the content analysis method to analyze the evolution of Hangzhou’s planning policies of urban villages since the reform and opening up and used one-way ANOVA to analyze the differences in rental levels among the urban villages developed under the planning policies of different urbanization stages, aiming to compare the influences of planning policies guided by traditional and new-type urbanization on urban village development. The results indicate that the policies allowing some degree of informality in the new-type urbanization stage achieve a higher rental level for urban villages than the policies of the traditional urbanization stages that restrict and prevent informality. The findings of this research suggest that informality may provide advantages that formality cannot replace and provides important policy implications for rapidly urbanizing countries.
... Planning is a series of activities of the most priority development, as well as to determine the direction, and strategy of development (Steiss, 2019). In the government administration, plans can be either informal or formal (van Assche et al., 2014). Planning with all its variations is aimed at helping to achieve organizational goals because the next management function is organizing, stabilizing, leading, and controlling (Cummings & Worley, 2014). ...
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Indonesia is a developing country, therefore development programs continue to be encouraged in all fields because it is important for human survival in the world. To analyze the influence Policy Implementation has on the Effectiveness of South Tangerang City Regional Development Planning and that of Financial Management on the Effectiveness of Tangerang City Regional Development Planning South, this type of explanatory research is a strategy that is quite popular in mixed methods research and is often used by researchers who are inclined to quantitative processes and deemed suitable for this study. Regional development is not solely determined by the potential or wealth of abundant natural resources, but is also determined by systematic development planning, measurable, and comprehensive. Good financial management has been proven to be able to increase the effectiveness of regional development planning. The implementation of the financial management system begins with the formulation of the program and the determination of good performance indicators. It will be very useful to apply because it will serve as a benchmark in achieving the program objectives that have been set.
... Recent emergent scholarship has however critiqued the above approach, highlighting that existing plans and policies on climate change fail to capture the various drivers of vulnerability in informal settlements [78,[80][81][82]. Studies advocate focusing on the existing realities that exist within the informal settlements, including local risk knowledge, self-organization, and transformative potential of the residing communities, as well as the possibilities around creating seemingly formal institutions and adaptations to multiple overlapping risks emanating from climate change and non-climatic issues. ...
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In this paper, we explore the complex entanglements between ongoing land conflicts and climate shocks, and their implications for risk governance paths and evolution. We focus on ways in which concepts of shock and conflict can be incorporated into social–ecological systems thinking and applied to risk governance practice in a southern cities context. Through a qualitative inquiry of two slum redevelopment projects in Bhubaneswar city in India, we trace the origin and evolution of conflict around land tenure and eviction in informal settlements, as well as its interaction with local manifestations of climate shocks. Climate policies, as responses to climate shock and intended to mitigate climate risk, are observed as constructed, interpreted, framed, and used strategically by formal actors to further urban development objectives, while the local knowledge systems, risk perceptions, and adaptations are ignored in practice. This study helps to re-think the complexities of climate risk governance in southern urban spaces where multiple risks overlap and interact within the diverse realities of informality and vulnerability. A singular focus on one type of risk, on the formal order to manage that risk, is likely to overlook other risks and opportunities. Hence, shocks are likely to produce more unanticipated effects, conflicts function as the unobserved middle term, and the formal policies and plans to mitigate climate risk contribute to the creation of new risk.
Climate governance studies suggest that the way climate risk and vulnerability are conceptualized, defined, and managed has consequences for people and places. In this paper, we analyze how different climate risk discourses and their vulnerability portrayals are constructed and have evolved in Bhubaneswar city in India. We conduct a Critical Discourse Analysis of various climate action plans and policy documents, as well as a thematic analysis of semi-structured interviews to interpret their discursive positions on climate issues. Based on our findings, we highlight three main discourses through which risk is constructed – discourses of inevitability, collocation, and intrinsic necessity. The vulnerability portrayals across these discourses are undergoing a transition from a pure outcome vulnerability approach toward a context-based approach, while their framings range from vulnerability to events, places, and social groups. The intertwining of discursive constructions of risk and vulnerability contributes toward constantly forming and re-forming risk and governance objects (and subjects), and the reproduction and resistance to certain forms of knowledge that limit and enable governance responses to climate change at the same time.
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In many urban areas, governments are struggling to curb urban sprawl while simultaneously trying to keep up with growing pressures on the housing market. As a result, housing developments increasingly take place within the existing housing stock through soft densification in the form of subdivisions. Municipalities aim to regulate this type of densification because of growing pressure on existing infrastructure, neighborhood cohesion, and (rental) prices. This contribution looks at the city of Utrecht in the Netherlands as a case study, where small-scale private investors increasingly bought up owner-occupied homes to subdivide into rental homes. As a result, the executive council of the municipality introduced new subdivision regulations in 2016. It explores how the interests of the investors influenced the negotiations that took place during the policy formulation and implementation phases. Using a neo-institutionalist approach, we found that policy negotiations gave rise to an increased number of flexible rules on subdivisions, allowing municipal authorities to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. While official subdivisions have reduced drastically as a result of the new policy, investors have moved towards other less regulated opportunities or even illegal subdivisions. These findings highlight that while flexible implementation may provide more steering capacity for municipalities, it may also lead to non-compliance as an unexpected byproduct.
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As neoliberalism is sinking into disrepute, states are responding to current crises by inroads on basic rights. This constellation adds urgency to the timeworn subject of statehood and its relationship to law and liberty. The paper addresses this subject by enhancing the neoliberal concept of an encased economy with James Coleman's concept of law as indicator of social change and Niklas Luhmann's functional differentiation. The resulting multifunctional liberalism associates liberties and rights with the autonomy of function systems -such as politics, economy or law - and envisions an ecosystem of multifunctional organizations able to navigate the full spectrum of functional differentiation.
The form of social relations described by the terms 'patronage' and 'patron-client relations' is of central concern to sociologists, anthropologists and political scientists today. Characterised by its voluntary and highly personal but often fully institutionalised nature, it is a type of behaviour found in almost every human society. It touches upon basic aspects of the construction and regulation of social order and is therefore closely connected to major theoretical problems and controversies in the social sciences. This book analyses some special types of these interpersonal relations - ritual kinship, patron-client relations and friendship - and the social conditions in which they develop. The authors draw upon a wide range of examples, from societies as diverse as these of the Mediterranean, Latin America, the Middle and Far East and the U.S.S.R., in their study of the core characteristics of such relationships. They look at them as mechanisms of social exchange, examine their impact on the institutional structures in which they exist, and assess the significance of the variations in their occurrence. Their analysis highlights the importance of these relationships in social life and concludes with a stimulating discussion of the ensuring tensions and ambivalences and the ways in which these are dealt with - though perhaps never fully overcome. Patrons, clients and friends is the first systematic comparative study of these interpersonal relations and makes the first attempt to relate them to central aspects of social structure. It will therefore be an important contribution to both comparative analysis and social theory and will be of interest to a wide range of social scientists.