Contemporary urbanization in the Global South merits greater attention from scholars of comparative politics. Governance, associational life, and political behavior take distinctive forms in the social and institutional environments created by rapid urbanization, particularly within informal settlements and labor markets. In this special issue, we examine forms of collective action and claims-making in these spaces. We also consider how the state assesses, maps, and responds to the demands of informal sector actors. Tackling questions of citizen and state behavior in these informal urban contexts requires innovative research strategies due to data scarcity and social and institutional complexity. Contributors to this symposium offer novel strategies for addressing these challenges, including the use of informal archives, worksite-based sampling, ethnographic survey design, enforcement process-tracing, and crowd-sourced data.
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Constitutional reforms in India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand have increased local government autonomy, and mayors are now elected in these and several other Asian countries (World Bank and United Cities and Local Governments 2008, pp. 57–58). In Latin America, all countries except for Cuba hold municipal elections (World Bank and United Cities and Local Governments 2008, p. 181). In sub-Saharan Africa, the majority of countries that hold regular national elections convene local government elections as well (Ndegwa 2002).
The informal sector is generally understood as economic and development activities that are untaxed and unregulated by the state. This would include unregulated or unregistered businesses, as well as settlements and infrastructure that were built outside of state regulations. The term “informal economy” was first used by Hart (1973) in his description of the Ghanaian economy, and as Castells and Portes (1989, p. 11) note, it is a “common-sense notion” with “moving social boundaries,” which makes precise definition difficult. A broader conception of informality could incorporate informal institutions (see Helmke & Levitsky 2004), unofficial or unregulated practices (e.g., Roy 2009; McFarlane 2012), or “flexibility, negotiation, or situational spontaneity that push back against established state regulations and the constraints of the law” (Boudreau & Davis 2017, p. 155).
In countries as diverse as Bolivia, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Tanzania, informal employment makes up more than 75% of total non-agricultural employment (International Labor Organization 2014, p. 9).
In some settings, traditional identities and modes of social control may be adapted to urban settings and retain much of their force (e.g., Cohen 1969).
Extensive population movement can also occur in rural settings (see World Bank 2009, p. 153).
For example, a large survey of economically diverse residents in 11 Nigerian cities found that 30% of respondents had moved within the past 5 years (December 2010 data collected by Adrienne LeBas; see Bodea & LeBas (2016) for more details).
Scholars can also examine the extent to which state-sponsored venues for citizen participation at the community and city level affect political participation by the urban poor (e.g., Heller & Evans 2010).
Studying a Buenos Aires slum suffering from toxic exposure, Auyero and Swistun (2009) find that institutional complexity makes it difficult for community members to understand to whom they can direct their complaints, while in Santiago, Chile, community leaders in a slum point to the usefulness of NGOs, rather than political parties, in advancing environmental concerns (Roberts & Portes 2006, pp. 67–68).
Reliance on these strategies may vary even within a single city (Nathan 2016).
The most extreme example of this can be found in China, where labor migrants often do not appear in official counts. This sampling problem is not limited to urban populations: transient and migratory populations, such as African pastoralists, are also difficult to sample. See Randall (2015).
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The authors thank Benjamin Allen for research assistance. The authors are also grateful to special issue contributors for numerous insights, and to Leonardo Arriola, David Backer, Ravinder Bhavnani, Karsten Donnay, Shelby Grossman, Alisha Holland, Katerina Linos, Aila Matanock, Jeffrey Paller, Amanda Robinson, and members of the SCID editorial collective for helpful comments.
The authors thank the Institute for International Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and the Schools of International Service and Public Affairs, American University, for providing funding for two workshops focused on this special issue.
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Auerbach, A.M., LeBas, A., Post, A.E. et al. State, Society, and Informality in Cities of the Global South. St Comp Int Dev 53, 261–280 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12116-018-9269-y
- Urban politics
- Informal institutions
- Developing world