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Reflections on “The Politics of Informality”: What We Know, How We Got There, and Where We Might Head Next

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Building on the methodological and empirical contributions of the various authors in this special symposium, this concluding reflection acknowledges the important role that informality plays in urban and national politics in the global South, even as it proposes a range of alternative ways, this critical topic could and should be inserted into contemporary scholarship in comparative politics. It begins with a discussion of two decades of research on urbanization and economic globalization, thus introducing a wider set of disciplinary concerns than merely urban servicing into the study of informality, ranging from the transformation of property rights regimes in the context of ascendant neo-liberalization to the recent emergence of more decentralized political structures for claim-making and governance. The essay then suggests that greater historical and contextual specificity in the study of informality, along with the methodological innovations highlighted in the papers, will further help reveal the range of responses to informality seen across the different case studies. Specifically, it proposes that closer attention to divergent urban and national pathways of democratization, attention to institutional variations within and across democratic regimes, political party dynamics at the local and national level, and the existence of urban violence, among other factors, will help explain how and why bureaucrats and elected officials may choose to deal differently with the existence of informality. The essay concludes by arguing that informality should be considered as both a form of governance and a means of enacting citizenship. It thus asks scholars to question the longstanding conceptual dichotomies that permeate much of the literature on informality, including the stark conceptual divide between the formal and informal, and instead to recognize that complex, interactive, and iterative relationships between citizens and the state in the arena of informality are what drive urban servicing and sociopolitical change.

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Correspondence to Diane E. Davis.

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Davis, D.E. Reflections on “The Politics of Informality”: What We Know, How We Got There, and Where We Might Head Next. St Comp Int Dev 53, 365–378 (2018).

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