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

Wednesday 18 March, 6pm - 8pm
Venue: Exhibition Room, G07 Pearson Building, Gower Street, University College London (see www.ucl.ac.uk/maps)

Hanna Hilbrandt (Open University); Susana Neves Alves (UCL); Tauri Tuvikene (University of Tallinn)
Discussant: Suzie Hall (LSE)

Abstract: Urban research has long related informality to a lack of state capacity or a failure of formal institutions. This assumption not only lacks attention to the heterogeneous logics and relations through which informality is produced by multiple actors in- and outside of the state, it has also created a dividing line between states. Whereas some states are understood to manage urban development through a coherently functioning state apparatus, others presumably fail to regulate. To unmake and reframe such understandings this paper offers both a theoretical discussion and an empirical exploration of the ways in which informality is infused in processes of governance in cities across the globe. Based on a comparison of three case studies in Tallinn (Estonia), Berlin (Germany) and Bafat (Guinea-Bissau), we suggest that if we seek to account for the similarities and differences in the informalization of cities in the north and the south we need to reconsider the role of states. More particularly, our line of argumentation focuses on the ways in which local state agencies are entangled in the workings of informality. Herby we work towards a more relational understanding of informality that is attuned to the multiple roles adopted by different actors involved in urban processes and the power relations that are mobilized therein in order to pursue two aims. On the one hand, we seek to show that state institutions shape urban development through everyday negotiations, legal incoherencies and regulatory ambiguities rather than coherently functioning institutions. On the other hand, we explore alternative forms of rule and institutions that exist beyond the state and govern peoples lives alongside the state. It follows from these two perspectives that allegedly informal processes can similarly be understood as formalities, while what appears to be formal at first sight might work through multiple informal relations.

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