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Abstract

Providing an introduction to the special section ‘Close encounters: ethnographies of the coproduction of space by the urban poor’, this article sets out to argue that the image of ‘the informal’ as unruly, messy and dirty continues to inform urban planning around the world. As a reaction to this view, it contends that the informal and formal should be analysed as interconnected and that the informal sphere should be revalued. Urban development is studied as close encounters between established practices, with a locus and a history (tree-like), and newly emerging, unstable and untraceable practices (rhizomatic). Contrary to the tendency in urban planning to conflate the formal with the tree and the informal with the rhizome, we argue that from the perspective of marginal urbanites, formal planning tends to be very arbitrary and frightening (rhizomatic), whereas informal practices can be very predictable and stable (arboreal). The article analyses residents of marginalized urban areas as inventive navigators who explore the changing physical, spatial and sociopolitical environment, avoiding threats and looking for opportunities, grounded in their everyday practices and life histories. The article concludes that marginal urbanites should be acknowledged as coproducers of urban space and that the right to ‘coproduce’ the city lies at the heart of the call for the right to the city.
Coproducing urban space: Rethinking the
formal/informal dichotomy
Martijn Koster
1
and Monique Nuijten
2
1
Anthropology and Development Studies, Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands
2
Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University, Wageningen, the Netherlands
Correspondence: Martijn Koster (email: m.koster@maw.ru.nl)
Providing an introduction to the special section Close encounters: ethnographies of the coproduc-
tion of space by the urban poor, this article sets out to argue that the image of the informalas
unruly, messy and dirty continues to inform urban planning around the world. As a reaction to this
view, it contends that the informal and formal should be analysed as interconnected and that the
informal sphere should be revalued. Urban development is studied as close encounters between
established practices, with a locus and a history (tree-like), and newly emerging, unstable and un-
traceable practices (rhizomatic). Contrary to the tendency in urban planning to conate the formal
with the tree and the informal with the rhizome, we argue that from the perspective of marginal ur-
banites, formal planning tends to be very arbitrary and frightening (rhizomatic), whereas informal
practices can be very predictable and stable (arboreal). The article analyses residents of marginalized
urban areas as inventive navigators who explore the changing physical, spatial and sociopolitical
environment, avoiding threats and looking for opportunities, grounded in their everyday practices
and life histories. The article concludes that marginal urbanites should be acknowledged as
coproducers of urban space and that the right to coproducethe city lies at the heart of the call
for the right to the city.
Keywords: ethnography, formal/ informal divide, right to the city, tree-rhizome, urban
development
Introduction: urban development and the right to coproduce the city
The planet as building site collides with the planet of slums”’, states David Harvey
(2008: 37) with reference to Mike Davis (2006).
1
Harvey argues that the metropolis is
now the point of massive collision . . . over the accumulation by dispossession visited
upon the least well-off and the developmental drive that seeks to colonize space for
the afuent(Harvey, 2008: 39). In so doing, Harvey sets the forces of bourgeois urban
development against the poor and presents them metaphorically as different planets that
hit each other. In their violent encounter, they collide, ricochet and chip off pieces of
each other, or one may crush the other. Their collision, as Harvey points out, results in
revolts. The articles in this special section also look at encounters between bourgeois ur-
ban development and marginalized urbanites. Yet, they show not only collisions, but also
creative solutions and bottom-up appropriation of space. Although we do not deny the
disastrous effects and growing inequalities as a result of bourgeois urban development
(Nuijten et al., 2012), in this special section we want to present a more comprehensive
view of the multiple scenarios in which marginalized residents coproduce space in the
city. The articles collected here present detailed ethnographies of disenfranchised urban-
ites who are not just beneciaries or victims of planned interventions, but also inventive
navigators.
Our perspective is strongly inuenced by Norman Long's actor-oriented approach
and social interface analysis for the study of development interventions. Long stresses
the dynamic and potentially conictive nature of social interfaces, which he denes
doi:10.1111/sjtg.12160
Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 37 (2016) 282294
© 2016 Department of Geography, National University of Singapore and John Wiley & Sons Australia, Ltd
as the critical points of intersection, where structural discontinuities emerge from
differences in interests, values and access to resources (1989; 2001). Despite structural
power differences, Long argues against overdeterministic analyses of development in-
terventions and emphasizes the creative agency of social actors in the margins and
the unexpected, newly emerging social practices that may result from these encounters.
As Amit, following de Certeau (1984) argues, in the anonymity of obscure daily prac-
tice there abound limitations on agency, but also opportunities for creativity(Amit
et al., 2015: 10). Also, John Turner's (1976) inuence is present in our perspective.
Although we do not share Turner's more instrumental approach, our issue certainly
re-emphasizes the value of his focus on the knowledgeability and the creativity of the
poor in (re)appropriating space in the city. In so doing, the articles in this special section
show how residents navigate the evolving physical and sociopolitical environment,
avoiding threats and looking for opportunities, grounded in their everyday practices
and life histories.
This special section has a wide geographical coverage, as it contains studies from
diverse excolonial contexts, in and beyond the tropics, discussing the development of
the urban fringes in Luanda (Angola) and Nouakchott (Mauritania); forced eviction in
Johannesburg (South Africa); inner-city revival in El Alto (Bolivia); participatory urban
upgrading in Recife (Brazil); and the reappropriation of space in the wake of the revolu-
tion in Cairo (Egypt).
In these different settings, we show how urban development consists of close
encounters between established practices, with a locus and a history, and newly emerg-
ing, unstable and untraceable practices. Mud, bricks, bulldozers, people, laws, local and
global historiesall are part of what can be seen as a Deleuzian assemblage of urban de-
velopment (McGuirk & Dowling, 2009; McFarlane, 2011). A variety of actors interact
and operate here, such as residents, politicians, architects, shack lords and civil servants.
The results of their multiple interactions become manifest in tangible, visible and (often
quite literally) concrete ways, resulting in new harmonies and oppositions.
All articles advance a long-term ethnographic engagement with marginalized urban
populations, showing the detail of their lived realities. The articles present an emic per-
spective, implying an empirical analysis from the vantage point of the people under
study. We pay special attention to land tenure, as people often start building their liveli-
hood in the city through the occupation of vacant land. This nonofcial tenure of plots
and dwellings is often presented as the ofcial motive for governments to remove people
from their homes, where they may have lived for decades. Although urban development
programmes are often presented as advancing the formal domain through establishing
law and order, we argue that the production of urban space always consists of a blend-
ing of formal and informal practices. Here we draw on current geographical discussions
that analyse urban development, planning and (in)formality (e.g., Miraftab, 2011;
McFarlane, 2012; Roy, 2014).
Our theoretical framing follows the metaphors of the tree and the rhizome, as coined
by Deleuze and Guattari ([1987] 2013). They present the tree as a stable, rooted form,
which stands for order and stability, whereas the rhizome stands for spontaneous, crea-
tive and wild social forms. In urban planning, architecture and design, these metaphors
have strongly reverberated in scholarsattempts to rethink the formal and the informal.
However, in this introductory article, we distance ourselves from the tendency in urban
planning to conate the formal with the tree and the informal with the rhizome. On the
contrary, we will argue that what is seen as ordered and stable (arboreal) or as emergent
and unpredictable (rhizomatic) depends on one's perspective. Bourgeois urban
283Introduction: Coproducing urban space
development interventions can be very arbitrary and frightening from the perspective of
poor residents, who suddenly see their shacks being pulled down. It is our emic stance,
looking from the perspective of poor urbanites, that leads to a different view of what is
certain (tree-like) and what is unpredictable (rhizomatic).
We agree with Harvey (2008) that the informality of the dispossessed is often consid-
ered an important reasonto deny them their right to the city. As poor people often have
no other way than to rely on informal and nonlegal arrangements, they can easily be
expelled from their homes. Yet, we can also perceive the informal occupation of urban
space as an attempt at claiming a right to the city. With that in mind, we propose a reval-
uation of the informal in the production of urban space and a reassessment of the people
that (by necessity) make more use of informal processes. Rather than depicting margin-
alized urbanites as a nuisance to or a target group of formal planning, we consider them
as coproducers of urban space who have a right to the city. In other words, we argue that
the right to coproducethe city, through formal as well more informal channels, lies at
the heart of the Lefebvrean call for the right to the city.
2
The myth of erasing informality
The formalization of so-called informal, unruly and messy situations and the establish-
ment of order tend to be the ofcial justication for many urban development
programmes. Informal and irregularurban areas are considered a danger to the mod-
ern, clean and ordered city (McFarlane, 2008; Yiftachel, 2009). We see how Perlman's
myth of marginality, the idea that the poor are unt for an orderly life and in fact are
parasitic on the urban structure (1976: 2), is still prevalent. The myth of erasing infor-
mality is at the basis of current urban development programmes. Consequently, urban
development is presented as a form of spatial purication, justied by invoking an im-
agery of unplanned areas as dirty, unhygienic and disorderly places that contaminate the
healthy urban body (Olds et al., 2002: 249). Much urban planning, indeed, is based on
the modernist utopia of washingthe masses to make them civilized subjects(Hansen
& Verkaaik, 2009: 2). In a similar vein, slums and other spontaneously grown parts of the
city may also be labelled as wastelandsthat can be brought into value by urban
development programmes, as Harms and Baird (2014) have recently shown in a special
section in this journal.
The mainstream understanding of informality positions it second to the formal or,
what we see for instance in the recent growth of slum tourism, as a kind of exotic urban
condition (Dovey & King, 2012). This view of the informal as the otherof the city,
which can be changed or banned through urban development programmes, gives rise
to portraying informality as urban development's abject other: urban development
thrives on informality and at the same time tries to exclude it (Roy, 2005).
We do not object to the use of the labels formal,informal,legaland illegal. Yet,
the formal and the informal should not be understood as opposite and separate domains
(Bunnell & Harris, 2012; McFarlane, 2012). As Dovey (2012: 363) points out, the infor-
mal/formal conception is both fundamental and non-dichotomousit is a single twofold
concept rather than two concepts in opposition. Likewise, the architects Hernández and
Kellett (2010: 10) argue that no word, or pair of words, seems to be able individually to
represent the intricate conict between what has been termed formal and informal.The
informaland the nonlegalcoexist and intermingle with the formaland the legal
(Nuijten & Anders, 2007). Benjamin (2008) gives a beautiful illustration of this intimate
entanglement when he shows how Indian slum residents lay claims to public
284 Martijn Koster and Monique Nuijten
investments in basic infrastructure and services via political candidates in return for votes
in municipal elections. In these vote bank politics, the formal elections are enmeshed
with informal practices in which votes are exchanged for public works in slums. The con-
tinuing existence of illegal land occupations and their infrastructural development are, in
this way, supported by lower-level party workers and municipal mid-level bureaucrats,
whose practices in effect strengthen the de facto tenure of these settlements (2008:
722). If we acknowledge that the formal and informal exist in symbiosis, it is obviously
a myth that urban development programmes are capable of erasing informality. In our
view, every intervention engenders new sociospatial congurations, involving new
entanglements of the formal and informal.
Formal/informal combinations of land tenure
Many planners and policy makers follow de Soto (2000) and depict informal tenure
arrangements as a hindrance for economic progress and development. For that reason,
the regularization of property relations tends to be high on urban policy agenda. How-
ever, also with respect to property relations the informal tends to be intricately
enmeshed with the formal and cannot be conceptualized as an independent and auton-
omous scheme. The fact that informal property transactions are carried out in the
shadow of the lawmeans that even if the law is not applied, it can have considerable in-
uence (von Benda-Beckmann, 1993). For example, in their local arrangements, people
often mimic the ofcial system to increase the legitimacy, if not the legalityof particular
transactions, so documents tend to be written up and signed (Varley, 2002: 452; Hull,
2012). State ofcials may be actively involved in helping people make these illegal trans-
actions look legal. In Luanda, Angola, for instance, bureaucrats offer stamped documents
for informal land transactions that render an ofcial image to such deals (Waldorff, 2016,
this issue).
The issue of land tenure is also closely linked to processes of land speculation that go
hand in hand with urban renewal. In our research in Brazil, we noticed how areas
expected to be upgraded become the object of speculation. As the intervention would
improve the living conditions of the residents, the value of the land increased. For the
same reason, squatter areas designated for resettlement would suddenly become much
more populated (Koster & Nuijten, 2012). People would pretend to have lived there
for many years, so as to qualify for receiving a new house or nancial compensation.
In so doing, the growth of informal settlements may be prompted by the expectations
that formal planning programmes engender. Vium (2016, this issue) shows how, in
Nouakchott, Mauritania, it is not uncommon to nd families who, over the years, have
tactically settled several members on illicit plots, in order to maximize their chances of
obtaining land titles or compensation in case of restructuration. Once having achieved
their goal, these urban nomadsmove on to new vacant areas, which are expected to
be included in a future resettlement or property regulation programme.
The intricate relationship between the formal and informal can also be found in
slums that are ofcially not recognized but whose connections to the water and electric-
ity supply networks are tolerated by the state and utilities companies. This tolerance
confers the settlement a certain degree of formal recognition and bestows a certain value
to the plots and houses. In these irregular settlements a market for plots and dwellings
usually emerges, often including arrangements that entwine formal and informal types
of ownership and transactions. In the city, multiple de facto tenure regimes often coexist,
each consisting of varying combinations of legal and nonlegal elements and sometimes
285Introduction: Coproducing urban space
transforming quickly as a response to upgrading expectations. The particular combina-
tion of legal and nonlegal elements in de facto tenure always is an empirical question
that, we believe, should be analysed through in-depth studies such as the ethnographies
we present in this issue.
Revaluing the informal
Informality tends to have a negative connotation, especially in urban planning. How-
ever, for poor urbanites informal arrangements are not necessarily detrimental, and
planned interventions are not automatically benecial. Many of the urban poor rely
on highly informal arrangements for most of their existence. They may prefer infor-
mal arrangements that are known to them over formal procedures that they are un-
familiar with (Koster, 2014; Waldorff, 2016; Wilhelm-Solomon, 2016, this issue).
Also, the urban poor are often unfamiliar with the ofcial government buildings
and middle-class areas, which they consider as hostile and threatening (Hansen &
Verkaaik, 2009). Moreover, ofcial procedures and government ofces may be out
of reach for those who lack the necessary conditions, connections and cultural capital
required for gaining access.
Some argue that the (everyday) politics of the poor take place in a realm different
from the formal structures and ofcial politics (Chatterjee, 2004). According to this view,
extralegal means are often the only way for poor people to defend their right of beingin
a society that largely excludes them. We are cautious to coincide with this view, as we
also see how poor people include juridical and rights-based modalities in their livelihood
strategies (Doshi, 2013). For instance, as Wilhelm-Solomon (2016) shows in this issue,
people faced with forced eviction from their informal housing may apply to the law, in
order to obtain a right to shelter. People in the urban margins actively pursue their live-
lihood projects and anticipate new opportunities through a combination of formal and
informal channels.
In fact, through the incorporation of informal practices, the urban poor have a
great ability to absorb, recycle, provide services, establish networks, celebrate, play
and essentially extend the margins of the urban system(Mehrotra, 2010: viii). Stra-
tegies, which emanate from everyday practical consciousness, enable agents to engage
with unforeseen and constantly changing circumstances in the urban landscape. In
this view, the informal cityis not a condition that needs to be re-formed but rather
acontagious phenomenon that actually remakes and humanises cities(Mehrotra,
2010: xiv). Moreover, it is often in the informal citywhere the poor assert their right
to coproduce the city.
In general, urban development programmes see formal tenure as providing security
for property owners, while informal tenure arrangements are considered unpredictable
and insecure. Yet, if we look at what tenure security entails, we get a more diverse pic-
ture. Tenure security is, in effect, about the recognition by others that a plot or a house is
one's property. Tenure security implies a certain stability and predictability in practices
over a longer period of time (Nuijten, 2003). People have to be able to trust that their
possessions are respected and their property transactions acknowledged. So, for squatters
who have lived in a settlement for many years, the security of tenure they experience
may by indistinguishable from that of residents of legal housing (Payne, 2000: 5). In-
deed, most residents do not base assessment of their security of tenure on regularization,
but on processes indicating ofcial tolerance of their settlement, in particular infrastruc-
tural improvements and property tax collection(Varley, 2002: 455).
286 Martijn Koster and Monique Nuijten
Formalizing land titles in the city commonly causes the land to become more interest-
ing for commercial investments, driving up prices and rents. For some inhabitants this
can be positive, as they see the value of their property increase. For others, it is negative,
especially for those who have fewer possibilities to grasp new chances, such as tenants
who cannot afford the higher rents and recently emerged property owners who cannot
afford real estate taxes, electricity and water bills that follow regularization. Formaliza-
tion of informal settlements often makes land and housing inaccessible to the poorest
(Jones, 2011; Desai & Loftus, 2012). As such, we can say that, generally, urban develop-
ment gives rise to an increase in the economic differentiation of the slum population
(Doshi, 2013).
The negative consequences we see do not imply that legalization is per denition dis-
advantageous to the poor. It might, for instance, break beneciaries' dependence on
slum lords and other powerful actors (Varley, 2002). In short, our point is that we should
not have too high expectations of such legal interventions to formalize tenure, as the law
is not a magic tool that will bring about the desired social and economic change
(von Benda-Beckmann, 1993). We contend with Varley that if the distinction
between legalityand illegalityis not as clear as is often assumed . . . legalization
may be a less efcient engine of change than its supportersand detractors
suppose(Varley, 2002: 455).
The tree/rhizome metaphor in urban planning
The formal and the informal are, as we have argued, always interwoven. This empirical
starting point challenges dichotomous thinking about urban space and development. In
order to move beyond the binary opposition between the formal and the informal, we
turn to the metaphor of the rhizome and the tree, as coined by Deleuze and Guattari
([1987] 2013). In their still vigorous book A Thousand Plateaus, they push our under-
standing beyond dualist thinking. The tree, with roots, a trunk, a centre and an origin,
is invoked as the dominant metaphor for social organization and thought. The tree has
a stable arboreal form, with roots and ramications. It plots, points and xes order
(Deleuze & Guattari, [1987] 2013). The rhizome stands for the meandering, spontane-
ous, de-centred, creative as well as parasitical forms of wildthought and wild social
forms”’ (Hansen & Verkaaik, 2009: 18). The rhizome has no stability, no historicity, no
locality of its own; it is always and everywhere. A rhizomatic process resists the linear
retracing of a denite locatable originary point of initiation(Chia, 1999: 222). While
the tree has a hierarchy and a genealogy, the rhizome is nonhierarchical and ahistoric.
The rhizome and the tree always appear together; they coexist, need each other and feed
on each other. As Hansen and Verkaaik emphasize, the arboreal is always an inherent
potential within any rhizomatic form, just as rhizomatic forms inevitably shoot off from,
penetrate and envelop arboreal systems with formal and historical properties(2009:19).
The idea of the tree/rhizome has strongly reverberated in urban planning and archi-
tecture (Ballantyne, 2007). This is understandable, as Deleuze has been considered the
twentieth century's most spatial philosopher (Buchanan & Lambert, 2005). In this strand
of literature the rhizome has become a much employed conceptualization of the infor-
mal city and different kinds of emergent urban forms (Brissac-Peixoto, 2009). Wall
(1999: 234), for instance, argues that, while traditional cities are more tree-like, the con-
temporary metropolis functions like a spreading rhizome, dispersed and diffuse. While
Brillembourg and Klumpner (2005) point to the rhizome-like qualities of the city of
Caracas, King (2008: 332) describes the rhizomatic aspects of:
287Introduction: Coproducing urban space
nonelite Bangkok space . . . with its multiple overlaying surfaces, seeming lack of order, and an
indigenous genius for inserting . . . a plethora of local enterprises into the initial uniformity of
the shophouse rows, as an uncontrolled, informal economy weaves through and undermines
the formal.
Similarly, Jáuregui (2010) equals rhizomatic occurrences and tree-like structured spaces
to the informal and the formal city respectively. In these views, formal urban planning is
the tree that encounters and challenges the unpredictable, decentred, rhizomatic actions
of poor urbanites. As Graaand argues, modernism only ever had one answer to the rhi-
zome, and that was clearance. . . . [T]he chaos of the rhizome causes fear, the fear of be-
ing absorbed by it. The grid helped overcome this fear(Graaand, 2000: 110).
Reversing the tree/ rhizome metaphor: an emic point of view
In Deleuze and Guattari's work, the tree/rhizome metaphor points to an ontological dis-
tinction; it refers to intrinsic qualities. Yet, in the way in which the metaphor has been
used in urban planning and architecture, as discussed above, the tree and the rhizome
are also in the eye of the beholder. However, the idea of informality as rhizomatic risks
turning a blind eye to the similarities between well-evolved informal settlements and
their adjacent formal neighbourhoods; both may have rhizomatic and arboreal qualities
(Varley, 2013). Brillembourg and Klumpner (2010: 120) also hint at this problem when
they argue that the informal is subject to rules and procedures potentially as specic...
as those that have governed ofcial, governmental city making. Likewise, Mehrotra
mentions the robustnessof the informal city (2010: xiii), which refers to a certain level
of establishment, hence a tree-like structuration of the informal.
Arguing that informal settlements are rhizomatic would imply that poor people are
living their lives in spontaneous, ad hoc and random ways. This point of view opens a
back door to Oscar Lewis's old, but regrettably still oft-used, argument that the urban
poor are characterized by a lack of organization (1965)an argument that has already
been refuted by several of his contemporaries (e.g., Perlman, 1976; Turner, 1976). What
is more, Lewis's own beautiful ethnographies show how organization is part and parcel
of the lives of the urban poor (1965). The articles in this special section demonstrate the
arboreal (more established) dimensions of informal settlements and practices as well as
the rhizomatic aspects of urban planning.
In so doing, we would like to challenge the way in which the tree/rhizome metaphor
is often used in urban planning analysis and, instead, approach urban development from
the emic point of view of marginalized urbanites in a specic locale, with particular
livelihood strategies rooted in extended life trajectories. The informal livelihood
strategies of periurban nomads or peasants in irregular settlements may be messy
from the planners' point of view but when studied from belowmay demonstrate
arboreal qualities (Vium, 2016; Waldorff, 2016). The strategies are embedded in life
histories, have developed over time and have become entrenched. The same holds
for slum dwellers who have lifelong and often supragenerational experiences with
living in precarious circumstances and have developed a savoir faire of eking out a
living in the city (de Vries, 2016, this issue).
From this perspective, an external intervention can imply unpredictable situations
that suddenly uproot people's well-structured lives. Both Risør and de Vries, in this issue,
also demonstrate the often improvisatory and unpredictable character of urban planning
projects due to the inuence of arbitrary party politics and the continuous and highly
unstable negotiations and conciliations between the authorities and the population.
288 Martijn Koster and Monique Nuijten
From the point of view of the urban poor, such interventions do not manifest themselves
as structured and predictable, following clear lines and trajectories; instead they seem to
have a rhizomatic nature, spreading in random directions at indenite moments. Fur-
thermore, urban development projects often inict fear and uncertainty in their lives.
Past experiences with the state offer good reasons for people to fear public authorities
and formal registration. In many parts of the world, a common understanding is that of-
cial procedures are implemented according to a logic of money and relationships,
meaning that the law ultimately serves the interests of the rich and powerful. Indeed,
the law is not a natural friendof people in the margins (Tamanaha, 2011).
The articles in this special section do not frame their analysis along the spatial and
temporal lines of urban planning projects but ethnographically engage with the lifeworld
of the urban poor. Urban planning often invokes an image of empty spaceand empty
time, as if space was not occupied and used before the timeline of the project started
(Raco et al., 2008; Baka, 2013). This perspective renders invisible the people in these
areas, their life histories and their social congurations. In contrast, the analytical gaze
of this special section is shaped by the spatiality and temporality provided in the ethnog-
raphies that narrate the stories and the social realities of marginalized city dwellers with
both their tree-like and their rhizomatic qualities.
In other words, in the city, many competing and antagonistic projects give rise to the
continuous reordering of social formations and urban space. Much of what is often la-
belled as informal consists of deeply embedded cultural or political practicesas such,
we argue, the informal has arboreal qualities. Also, the informal citybecomes more lig-
nied as, with time, settlements become more structured and their politics become more
institutionalized. If we push the metaphor a bit further, trees may get lost to illnesses or
forest res and continue to live in their rhizomes. These rhizomes, after a period of un-
predictable growth, may lignify and become xed again. For instance, the article by
Furniss (2016, this issue) shows how garbage collectors make strategic use of the
rhizomatically emerging situation after the 2011 revolution in Egypt and nd ways of
turning the new circumstances to their advantage, by appropriating vacant land where
construction is long prohibited. As we see it, the chaos and unpredictability in the wake
of the revolution create spaces where forbidden practices of marginal actorswho ille-
gallyprovide for their housing needs in the absence of better alternativescould our-
ish again and become part of the urban landscape.
As mentioned above, poor urbanites, who occupy or buy a plot in a slum or a room in
an inner-city building, can enjoy considerable de facto security of tenure for a long pe-
riod of time (arboreal). Several legal anthropologists have pointed to strongly institution-
alized systems of norms that regulate access and transfer of plots and dwellings in illegal
settlements (von Benda-Beckmann et al., 2006; Sikor & Lund, 2009). In land occupations
the denitions and the enforcement of claims as rights within more or less durable social
networks can develop into legitimate tenure agreements (Lund, 2013). The periurban
peasants Waldorff (2016) describes conceive of their informal system of land tenure with
its quasi-legal documents as a reliable, well-structured system, in spite of the authorities'
seeing it as a wildsocial form.
On the other hand, for people in the margins, ofcial regulation of tenure may be
dangerous and unpredictable (rhizomatic) rather than benign and predictable (arboreal).
Ofcial institutions and the law often operate in an exclusionary fashion towards the
urban poor. For instance, in 2004, the Angolan state issued a law that turned all unreg-
istered land into state property. As a consequence, many Angolans are confronted with
forced evictions and the demolition of their houses in the name of formalization and
289Introduction: Coproducing urban space
legalization of property rights (Waldorff, 2016). Here the formal law and regularization
of tenure cause a huge insecurity and anxiety in the lives of poor people. The peasants
in Waldorff's study (2016) doubt whether the formal system would really x order,
referring to the local saying that Angolan law is written in penciland, as such, dening
it as completely unpredictable.
Contradictions in the ofcial legal process can also result in uncertain tenure situa-
tions. Wilhelm-Solomon (2016) shows how, rather than operating in a state of legal
abandonment, poor communities tend to operate under conditions characterized by a
proliferation of legal codes and entitlements, creating high levels of indeterminacy. Fur-
thermore, while relations can be formally scripted, in the actual encounters between
marginalized residents and state representatives the script is often modied or replaced
by real, effective relations of collaboration and contestation (cf. Lund, 2013).
Navigating urban development and coproducing urban space
The articles in this special section analyse the urban poor's myriad ways of navigating
through changing urban landscapes across the Global South. To understand the copro-
duction of urban space from an emic perspective, we build on the notion of navigations
as used by Vigh (2009) and Anjaria and McFarlane (2011: 6), focusing on how people
make sense of and work their way throughurban development often in contexts of
deep political, economic and social inequality.
The concept of navigation helps us to analytically pinpoint what we are looking at:
navigation supersedes the theoretical formal/informal dichotomy and comprises the spe-
cic empirical practices of actors, the ways in which they actively move through, prac-
tice, cope with, seek to dominate, and learn how to live in the city(Anjaria &
McFarlane, 2011: 7). People navigate the diverse physical spheres of the city, as well as
its accumulated political historical layers that comprise its present (Anjaria & McFarlane,
2011: 7). Analytically, in our view, navigating implies that people follow a trajectory
along a predetermined plan, while they also make sudden tactical moves and dodges
to react to unpredictable situations. While navigating, people creatively combine what
de Certeau (1984) would call strategy (intended and structured plans) with tactics (the
everyday practices used to create space on an ad hoc basis), as elaborated upon by
Furniss (2016). As Risør (2016) argues, navigation implies a continuous combining of
the formal and the informal. It connects historically structured developments and ahis-
toric events; it requires invested knowledge, gut feeling and the capacity for
impromptu action. Navigation is primarily about individual livelihood strategies, yet it
brings signicant changes to the urban conguration. As such, as a practice, navigation
combines the tree-like and the rhizomatic.
Hansen and Verkaaik see the urban specialistsas shrewd navigators, the exemplary
personications of the intermeshed qualities of tree and rhizome. These hustlers, big
men, community workers, brokers or even gangstersare individuals who by virtue of
their reputation, skills and imputed connections provide services, connectivity and
knowledge to ordinary dwellers in slums and popular neighbourhoods(2009: 16). We
agree that particular persons have more than average capacities to navigate between
the structured and the spontaneous, between strategies and tactics and between the a
priori and the emergent. Yet, in our articles, we see all kinds of peoplecertainly not
all specialistswho are involved in practices of navigation. In comparison to the urban
specialists, these people have more limited networks, more mundane navigations and
290 Martijn Koster and Monique Nuijten
less spectacular practices. Still, they live through complexities and connect the different
actors and multiple meanings that make up these complexities.
The articles in this special section show how a diversity of marginalized urbanites
navigate the changing sociopolitical and physical urban landscape. By grappling with
new opportunities and limitations and combining formal procedures with informal
networks, they become coproducers of urban space and, in doing so, actively claim their
right to the city. Vium's article shows how nomads settle at the urban fringes of Nouak-
chott, Mauritania, and, as such, obtain a xed place. Meanwhile, the livelihood strategies
that they use for coping with formal urban development programmes can be traced back
to their nomadic way of life. In so doing, they navigate between notions of itinerancy
and xity, between their nomadic livelihood and an urban lifestyle, in a dynamic copro-
duction of urban space.
Waldorff's article shows how ofcial development plans and formal land laws create
insecurity, uncertainty and anxiety rather than security for periurban peasants in Lu-
anda, Angola. When faced with state-led land grab, these people try to navigate between
formal regulations and informal land tenure practices. Wilhelm-Solomon shows how the
legal and the illegal become intermeshed when undocumented blind Zimbabwean mi-
grants in South Africa apply to the law after being forcefully evicted from their dwellings.
Interestingly, their case gains legal traction based on the principle that these blind mi-
grants are protected by a particular legislation that classies them as vulnerable residents,
resulting in an effective entwining of legal/illegal and formal/informal. Risør's article
presents how residents of El Alto, Bolivia, intervene in the sociospatial layout of their
city. They become part of a formal/informal and legal/illegal amalgam of state and
nonstate actors that coproduce urban space. Their intervention, protesting against the
established yet informal presence of illegal bars and brothels and the alleged civil insecu-
rity these entail, challenges the formal plans of the authorities. Risør points to how the
navigations of these urbanites give rise to reimagining state-citizen relations, the city
and the urban subject and its future. De Vries's article discusses the development and im-
plementation of participatory modes of planning in Recife, Brazil. While presenting a
specic urban upgrading project in one of the city's favelas, he demonstrates how this
project comprises many deeply entrenched informal practices related to class distinction,
clientelism and off-the-record party politics. Furthermore, by presenting local commu-
nity leaders who actively represent the local population and try to inuence the project,
de Vries's article is a clear example of how planners, policy makers, street-level bureau-
crats and local community leaders together coproduce urban space, through an intricate
entwining of formal and informal practices and discourses. Theoretically, de Vries pushes
our argument about the nondichotomous nature of the formal/informal even further, by
depicting the urban condition as essentially inconsistent, in which the distinction be-
tween the formal and the informal is an ideological fantasy, in the Lacanian/Deleuzian
sense.
The article by Furniss examines how garbage collectors make use of hiatuses in the
formal structure after the political turmoil and consequential regime shift in Cairo,
Egypt. They manage to navigate the chaotic situation and take advantage of it by occu-
pying plots in areas where construction was long forbidden. As such, the articles in this
collection demonstrate how the urban poor coproduce space through their navigations
in a context of urban change. As we see it, for the sake of granting the poor rights to
the city, it is necessary to acknowledge their roles as coproducers of the city and to take
their navigations seriously, both in their tree-like and rhizomatic manifestations.
291Introduction: Coproducing urban space
Acknowledgements
The arguments we have presented in this introductory article and the ideas that we have used to
structure this special section have beneted from conversations with many people. We are
especially grateful to Steffen Jensen and Anouk de Koning, who were discussants of the panel
Urban renewal, uncertainty and exclusionat the European Association of Social Anthropologists
(EASA) conference in Nanterre, France, from which this collection of articles emerged. We are also
grateful to Tim Bunnell, coeditor of the Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, for his encouraging
comments and guidance during the process of guest editing this special section. Finally, we would
like to thank the external anonymous reviewers for their helpful reviews of this introductory article
and the other articles presented here.
Endnotes
1 This special section evolved out of the panel Urban renewal, uncertainty and exclusionthat the
editors organized for the biannual EASA (European Association of Social Anthropologists) con-
ference. We invited the best contributions to our panel for this special section and, in addition,
asked some prominent scholars to write an article especially for this project.
2 See also Desai and Loftus (2012:17), who argue for a democratization of the right to produce the
city.
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... Finally, the open-ended nature of space means that that which is deemed 'formal' never fully contains the intended objectives and interventions in space, but that some level of informality affects both their processes and their outcome (Koster & Nuijten, 2016;McFarlane, 2012;Roy, 2005;Yiftachel, 2009). ...
... The "bias in disaster governance research" also privileges a focus on state-based processes over bottom-up and informal engagements (Huang, 2018, p. 384). Therefore, focusing on everyday practices helps to understand the informal and open-ended nature of certain formal structures in space (Koster & Nuijten, 2016;McFarlane, 2012;Roy, 2005;Yiftachel, 2009), such as disaster risks and informality (Parthasarathy, 2015) or coastal resilience planning (Weinstein et al., 2019), and exposes the unintended effects arising from (de)politicised settings (Marks, 2015). ...
... 181-182). To enhance the urban features of the political, we explore beyond formal and informal distinctions to see how risk initiatives emerge in their interstices, developing practices and discourses of risk management with justice connotations (Huang, 2018;Koster & Nuijten, 2016;Soja, 2010). ...
... An increasing number of scholars have recently addressed urban informality as an essential element of urban planning, rejecting the dichotomy of formality and informality and questioning the basic concepts of informality (AlSayyad, 2004;Roy, 2005;Yiftachel, 2009;Koster and Nuijten, 2016;McFarlane and Waibel, 2016;Harris, 2018;Koster and Smart, 2019;Meth, 2020). They argue that informality is neither the clear-cut opposite of formality, nor bound to poverty alone, and nor is it simply the result of state incapacity and a lack of planning. ...
... In the context of housing, this would primarily mean to grant any kind of formal land tenure (de jure security of tenure) to the inhabitants of illegal or informal settlements--whether through formal recognition (collective land titles), in-situ regularization (individual freehold titles), or resettlement to some sort of 'formal' housing (protected rental housing or home ownership). However, in many urban contexts, the difference between 'formal' and 'informal' urban space has been the cause of long-lasting stigmatization and idealization, constructing the 'informal' city as the antithesis of the dignified, modern and orderly 'formal' city (Fischer, 2014;Valladares, 2019)--a hyperbolic difference that exists in people's heads rather than in the 'real' world (Cavalcanti, 2014;Koster and Nuijten, 2016;Meth, 2020). Consequently, for both the state and residents, formalization may not primarily represent a question of titles--keeping in mind that inhabitants of informal settlements do not necessarily feel insecurity of tenure (Payne et al., 2009;van Gelder, 2010;Beier, 2019: 143); instead, it represents the symbolism which is strongly connected to visual aspects of stylized images of (in)formality (cf. ...
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Increasingly, scholarly works challenge the formal/informal dichotomy, stressing the multiple political practices of producing informality which go beyond state incapacity. In contrast, this article addresses a lack of research concerning the production of ‘formal’ urban space through state‐led housing programmes. Deconstructing simplistic notions of state intentionality and incapacity, the article zooms in on competing interests and diverse resources, as well as the shifting power relations between multiple private, semi‐public and public actors which shape the production of ‘formality’. Focusing on a shantytown resettlement programme in Casablanca, the article differentiates between visible informality and splintered informalities. The former relates to the prevailing clear‐cut and stereotypical dichotomy between formal and informal urban space which underpins the state's objective of eliminating the visible informality attached to Morocco's shantytowns. The latter is the result of a messy process of ensuring housing affordability through the so‐called third‐party scheme—a sites‐and‐services project based on small‐scale private investment and land speculation—once this objective is achieved. Characterized by heterogeneous actor constellations, opportunism and flexible regulatory practices, the scheme has not only capitalized but also individualized urban space. Instead of building new formal housing, the scheme has produced splintered informalities and created new uncertainties and arbitrariness beyond the control of a single actor.
... The results also note that people who form informal spaces tend to be low-income or poor people [22], [26]. The reason is that the poor cannot access formal areas because of their limited income [27]. ...
... After revitalization, the use of space that is not following the Semarang City Government rules results in insecure, unpredictable, and closely related tenure with eviction [27]; for instance, street vendors who reside in a place to sell the products. With the revitalization, street vendors' activities shifted from settled to a cart with a mobile system since they do not have money to rent a building. ...
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Old Town is a historic area and also a highly prospective tourism destination in Semarang city. Beforehand, this area faced some problems such as tidal flood, costly building maintenance, and high building taxes. As a result, many historic buildings are abandoned by their owners and become unkempt. Responding to this, the government decided to revitalize the Old Town areas, focusing on physical improvements like fixing roads, drainage, and adding infrastructure. This revitalization transforms the area’s spatial use, allowing more activities convened on the site. However, this transformation also triggers irregular space usage and informal space. In this study, we emphasize the emergence of formal and informal areas due to revitalization. It is essential to find out the emergence of these spaces as part of spatial management. We start by identifying elements in the revitalization process, comparing the land and space utilization before and after revitalization, and analyze its impact on the emergence of formal and informal spaces. We will collect the data through field observations, interviews, and literature review, and we utilize descriptive analysis and geographic information systems as a method of analysis. The results show that revitalization is indeed changing space utilization. Informal activities such as illegal dwellings, cockfights, prostitution, illegal street vendors, and unlawful parking are no longer present in the Old Town area. Informal activities have changed into formal activities as Semarang City Government provides avenues for service providers, pedestrians, and traders to utilize the space.
... In identifying impartiality as an affect for government officials, One Voice was reflecting on the bias government officials have in favour of formal businesses. Government sees formal business investment as essential to rebuilding the inner city (Koster & Nuijten, 2016). Previous city governments attempted to 'clean up' the inner city by removing informal traders (e.g., Operation Clean ...
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This research aimed to establish how two community-based organisations (CBOs) in inner city Johannesburg used communication to build political power in their political networks. As such, I explored theories on building, shaping, and transforming networks of power, especially with reference to Latour, and Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of an assemblage. Assemblages are underpinned by the desire to make connections and therefore Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of desire is helpful in revealing the connections between different elements of political communication. The departure point for this research was to examine how CBOs use political communication in networks of power or to generate networks of power. The research examined flows of communication among CBO members, their communities, and other audiences, using an a political communication machine/assemblage. The machine has five components, which were explored in depth in the chapters of this thesis. They are: desire, framing, aesthetics, communication tools and audiences. Desire is not a lack but the creative, productive impetus for the organisations; using this theory to explore the two CBOs communications led to insights into the not only the material outputs and conditions of communication, but also both the rational and affective qualities of that communication. In terms of the study of communication, the conceptual framework allowed for the study of the different components working together to generate a communication flow, instead of simply relying on a static study of frames, or tools, or aesthetics or audiences. As such, the study reveals the dynamism in CBO political communication. Previous studies of South African CBOs have mentioned that before CBOs protest, they undertake extensive efforts to communicate with government; however, the previous studies did not elucidate what these extensive efforts consisted of, so this study has provided rich detail for further exploring the dynamic. The two CBOs were markedly different in their structure and their efforts to communicate. The Inner City Resource Centre (ICRC), which tackles housing issues in the inner city, was well funded, and had offices. Their communication efforts were highly effective at building and retaining its core membership. However, they were not successful in connecting with the City of Johannesburg, because the city had locked them out of participatory spaces. One Voice of All Hawkers Association (One Voice) was highly fractious, some members exhibited micro-fascisms, and the organisation ran in somewhat of a haphazard pattern in its efforts to protect street traders. However, they were highly successful at micro-local politics, using subterfuge to undermine the city’s trader administration system and preventing traders from being evicted. One Voice also sustained a large membership base over a long period of time, and this was mainly based on one-on-one communication. Their success was not based on a powerful political communication machine, but instead on the way they opportunistically managed micro-local circumstances. The study showed that an effective political communication machine was important for growing solidarity networks. However, large parts of government could not be reached, regardless of what communication strategies the organisations deployed, since participatory governance spaces were either closed off or inaccessible.
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... The "bias in disaster governance research" also privileges a focus on state-based processes over bottom-up and informal engagements (Huang, 2018, p. 384). Therefore, focusing on everyday practices helps to understand the informal and open-ended nature of certain formal structures in space (Koster & Nuijten, 2016;McFarlane, 2012;Roy, 2005;Yiftachel, 2009), such as disaster risks and informality (Parthasarathy, 2015) or coastal resilience planning (Weinstein, Rumbach, & Sinha, 2019), and exposes the unintended effects arising from (de)politicised settings (Marks, 2015). However, it should clearly not lead to an abdication of state responsibility. ...
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As issues and circumstances investigated by anthropologists are becoming ever more diverse, the need to address social affiliation in contemporary situations of mobility, urbanity, transnational connections, individuation, media, and capital flows, has never been greater. Thinking Through Sociality combines a review of classical theories with recent theoretical innovations across a wide range of issues, locales, situations and domains. In this book, an international group of contributors train attention on the concepts of disjuncture, field, social space, sociability, organizations and network, mid-range concepts that are "good to think with." Neither too narrowly defined nor too sweeping, these concepts can be used to think through a myriad of ethnographic situations.
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