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Planning Theory & Practice


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Rethinking Informality: Politics, Crisis, and the City


Colin McFarlane
a a

Department of Geography, Durham University, Durham, UK Version of record first published: 22 Mar 2012.

To cite this article: Colin McFarlane (2012): Rethinking Informality: Politics, Crisis, and the City, Planning Theory & Practice, 13:1, 89-108 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14649357.2012.649951

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Planning Theory & Practice, Vol. 13, No. 1, 89108, March 2012

Rethinking Informality: Politics, Crisis, and the City


COLIN MCFARLANE
Department of Geography, Durham University, Durham, UK

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ABSTRACT If informality has been conventionally understood as a territorial formation or as a labour categorisation, this paper offers an alternative conceptualisation that conceives informality and formality as forms of practice. The paper examines how different relations of informal and formal practice enable urban planning, development and politics, and explores the changing relationship between informality and formality over time. To illustrate the political potential of conceiving informality and formality as practices, it highlights the fall-out from a particular urban crisis: the 2005 Mumbai monsoon oods. In the nal section, the paper offers three conceptual frames for charting the changing relations of informal and formal practices: speculation, composition, and bricolage.
Keywords: Crisis; formality; informality; Mumbai; practice; urbanism

Introduction The distinction between informal and formal is one of the most enduring in urban and planning theory, and their descriptive and proscriptive potential have often been critically debated. This is a debate not just about the work done by different conceptualisations of informality and formality in different contextsplanning, policy, regulation, or as analytical categoriesbut about how we come to know and intervene in contemporary urbanism. Ostensibly, the distinction between formality and informality appears simply as a descriptor, a way of expressing something about the broad arrangement of urban space, a short-hand device for dividing different areas of a city, or a means of making particular forms of urban practice show up, such as casualised labour. In practice, however, its function goes far beyond this. The formal informal distinction is a multifaceted resource for naming, managing, governing, producing, and even critiquing contemporary cities. The distinction is put to work in relation to urban territory (slum and non-slum), groups (labour), and governmentality (monitoring, naming and intervening). In the face of the depth, complexity, changeability and variation of cities, the informal formal relation is both a seemingly modest descriptor and a powerful distinction that has an active effect on urban imagination and practice, and that even plays a fundamental role in constituting the urban (especially in the global south). If urban theory is, in part, a response to the unknowability of urbanism, it also problematises that which appears to be known, that which is taken-for-granted.
Correspondence Address: Colin McFarlane, Department of Geography, Durham University, South Road, Durham DH1 3LE, UK. Email: colin.mcfarlane@durham.ac.uk
1464-9357 Print/1470-000X On-line/12/010089-20 q 2012 Taylor & Francis http:/ /dx.doi.org/10.1080/14649357.2012.649951

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I offer an alternative conceptualisation of the distinction between formality and informality, exploring both as particular forms of practice. I build on recent debates that conceive of informality as a type of negotiation and valuation, and I seek to extend these debates by thinking through what this might mean both for how informality and formality fold into one another, and for the politics and geographies of the city. In order to highlight some of the ways in which informality and formality as practices might facilitate a politics of the city, I briey discuss the response to monsoon oods in Mumbai. Moments of large-scale urban crisis like the 2005 Mumbai oods can act to dramatise and thereby make starkly visible forms of informal politics that characterise seemingly formal spaces such as those of urban planning and development. One of the effects of the monsoon was to generate a debate in Mumbai about what caused the oods, a debate that shifted the rhetorical terrain away from slumsif only temporarilytowards the activities of the state and private developers operating informally to bypass formal regulations. In other words, the debate that ensued did not just attribute blame to informality in terms of slum spaces, but also to informality as a more generalised practice. I have chosen to focus on this moment because it afforded an opportunity for a critical and wide-ranging debate about the nature and trajectory of the politics of both formal and informal urban development practices in the city. And yet, in and of themselves, the categories of informal and formal can only take us so far. I argue that there is a need for further exploration of the ways in which different regimes of informal and formal practices take shape and impact on urbanism. A central question, I argue, is how informal and formal practices relate to one another in different contexts, for example whether they are co-constitutive, mutually enabling or delimiting, or increasingly asymmetrical and non-antonymic. My aim is not to provide an exhaustive list here of the different possible ways in which informal and formal practices relate in urban life, but to argue that it is important to specify the different ways in which they relate to one another in the production and contestation of cities. In the nal part of the paper, I highlight three regimes of informal formal practices: speculation, composition, and bricolage. I am not, to be clear, arguing against accounts that use the terms informality or formality to describe territories or labour categorisations, which have their own strengths and shortcomings. The Mumbai discussion draws on eldwork conducted in the city following the oods in 2005 2006. The data used in the paper emerges from interviews with residents in several affected informal settlements in the city, as well as with individuals from nongovernmental organisations (NGOs), municipal ofcials involved in responding to the crisis, and municipal ofcials charged with managing relevant infrastructures including storm water drainage, sewage and sanitation, and water. I have also drawn on grey literaturereports and working papers on the crisis produced in and beyond Indiaand on online sources, including newspaper and magazine reports, the websites of campaigning organisations, and online discussion forums that recorded some of the experiences and perceptions of people in the days following the oods. Rethinking Informality Informality occupies a contradictory but never fully externalised space, in that it is often viewed as a product of urban modernity and economic liberalisationassumed to be domains of the formalbut at the same time appears to lack the products of those projects. Formality and informality are often conceived as territorial formations (e.g. the slum as informal), categories of particular groups (e.g. informal labour), or forms of

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organisation (e.g. structured versus unstructured; rule-based versus unruly; predictable versus unpredictable). The formal informal urban relation is an epistemological demarcation put to work in different ways and contexts, but there are four general ways in which it manifests in urban debates. The rst three conceptualisations are often found together, while the fourth marks an alternative conceptualisation that has emerged more recently. The rst of these is the conception of the informal formal divide as a spatial categorisation. Informality is often assumed to be territorialised within slum settlements on the legal, political, economic, social and environmental margins of the city. More recently, there have been moves away from this logic, as writers have emphasised the more generalised spatiality of the informal. For instance, Dicken (2005) argues that Rios favelas, far from being marginal spaces to the city, are central to its urban logic because they enable and constitute debates on urban civilisation and law. Second, the informal formal divide is often conceived of as an organisational form. The central idea is often that informality is represented by unorganised, unregulated labour, although in practice such labour is often highly organised and disciplined. For example, Hoffman (2007) conceptualises the nomos, or general organising principle, of labour in urban West Africa through the conceptual category of the barracks. Taking Agambens camp as his point of departure, he argues that the barracks concentrate (especially male) bodies and subjects into formations that can be deployed quickly and efciently to any corner of the empire. They may be called up at any moment as labourers on the battleeld, workers on the plantation, or diggers in the mine (Hoffman, 2007, p. 402). Others have argued that the informal formal labour categorisations have been partially broken down, for example through an increase of informalised labour globally as municipalities increasingly privatise public services. For instance, Miraftab (2004, p. 874) argued that in the late 1990s, Cape Towns municipal government mobilized patriarchal gender ideologies as well as the rhetoric of voluntarism and skill acquisition to justify the cheap or unpaid labor of women as casual laborers or volunteers in waste collection. Here, outsourcing strategies by the municipality enabled private rms to exploit minimally paid labouroften women from black townshipshired under precarious short-term contracts to service local areas. The informalisation, or casualisation, of labour in cities in the global north and south has been well documented (see, for example, a & Rolda ns (1987) The Crossroads of Class and Gender, on the iniquitous relations Bener between economic change, subcontracting and gender in Mexico City, and Devlin (2011), on street vendors in New York). Devlin (2011) argues that labour informality is a growing issue across cities in the USA, particularly in low-income immigrant communities where planners tend to see informal practice as a product of culture, and to focus on multiculturalist rhetoric rather than structural inequalities. As Oren Yiftachel (2009) remarks in relation to what he calls urban gray spaces, marginalised lives are neither integrated nor eliminated, forming pseudo-permanent margins of todays urban regions; they experience a permanent temporariness (Yiftachel, 2009, pp. 89, 90). Third, the informal formal divide often materialises as a governmental tool. Versions of formal and informal are deployed by states as an organisational device that allows particular domains and forms of intervention (e.g. around resource allocation, service provision, or statistical monitoring). One example of this in Mumbai is the notorious cut-off date that the city and state governments use as a qualier for infrastructure, services, and housing to poor neighbourhoods. Eligibility for services depends on how long people have lived in a settlement, with the cut-off often set at 1995 (sometimes 2000 depending on the project and the funder). People who cannot provide documented proof

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that they lived in a settlement before 1995 are denied access to programmes. This governmental framing of the formal informal divide contributes to the lingering representation of informal settlements, and labour within urban and planning debates as a developmental problem. This constitution of the informal by the governmental as a tool varies across cities, but there are similarities and common causes that can be identied. For example, Fairbanks (2011, p. 2558) uses an example from Philadelphia as an indicator of a much wider proliferation of informal poverty survival and make-do welfarism across cities in the USA and elsewhere, driven by political economic transformation, welfare removal, social housing reduction, and privatisation. Writing about Philadelphias Recovery House Movement, Fairbanks (2011, p. 2556) describes how particular groups locked outside the zones of downtown remodelling and pushed to the outer periphery of formal public/private partnerships have been condemned to an informal poverty politics in the shadow of the welfare state. In the area of Kensington where he conducted his research, more than half of the population is detached from the labour force. Recovery house operators, enacting a kind of entrepreneurial, self-help, make-do welfarism, informally facilitate access to housing for addicts and alcoholics alongside and beyond the mechanisms of state welfare. Here, formal state and political economic shifts set the conditions of possibility for informal practices, and the formal and the informal are inextricably co-constituted. In contrast, Guha-Khasnobis et al. (2006) conceive informality as organisational forms beyond the reach of ofcial governance mechanisms. The informal emerges here as that upon which government has little or no impact (their examples include the Indian software industry, as well as precarious labour). However, the idea of activities beyond the reach of government depends on the assumption that the impact of government can only be understood in terms of a visible or overt presence; yet in practice, governmental reach can also operate as a context that enables or delimits the range of possibilities. As Ananya Roy (2009a, p. 10) has written, informality does not lie beyond planning; rather it is planning that inscribes the informal by designating some activities as authorized and others as unauthorized, by demolishing slums while granting legal status to equally illegal suburban developments. MacLeod and Jones (2011, p. 2452) add that the fundamental analytical, and indeed political, question is why some instances of informality are designated as illegal and their inhabitants criminalised while other land transformations appear to be protected and formalised to enjoy state sanction or even endorsed as practices of the state. What this opens up is a crucial politics of formalisation, one that interrogates the teleological notion that the city is en route from informality to high-end services (Pieterse, 2008, p. 127). This politics has been shaped in particular by the inuential arguments by Hernando De Soto (2001) that informal housing represents a largely untapped pool of dead capital that will be realised through economic and legal security, housing markets and surplus generation, potential future exchange and investment (including in new businesses), and the social capital associated with formalised status. While De Sotos arguments have had signicant inuence on organisations like the World Bank, a great deal of scholarship has highlighted the dangers of formalisation. As Neuwirth (2006) cautions, legal title deedsindividual or collectiveare far from straightforward goods, and can have the consequence of raising land and housing prices to the point where the poor are priced out (Porter, 2011). In Cairo (Payne, 2001, cited in Briggs, 2011), for instance, land titling led to the displacement of 21% of low-income tenants who could not afford higher rents, and it is often wealthier groups that benet from land titling schemes, thereby increasing rather than reducing inequality. In addition,

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as Briggs (2011) argues in relation to formalisation processes in peri-urban areas of Dar es Salaam, many residents, especially poorer groups, are content with existing de facto security of tenure (e.g. registered purchases with local wards) and see no benet in participating in the expensive and legally complex world of formalisation, or of potentially making their homes vulnerable to defaulted bank payments. Nor is there any guarantee that having a formal land title will enable individuals to unlock credit to start new businesses, particularly as many banks are suspicious of lending money to the urban poor (Briggs, 2011). Fourth, more recently, informality has been conceived of as a negotiable value. While this view retains a critical perspective on the politics of formalisation, it nonetheless offers an alternative to the three readings of informal formal above. Here, as Roy and AlSayyad (2004, p. 5) write, the distinctions between formal and informal emerge in practice: If formality operates through the xing of value, including the mapping of spatial value, then informality operates through the constant negotiability of value (emphasis in the original) (see also Porter, 2011). Informality and formality constitute the rules of the game, determining the nature of transactions between individuals and institutions and within institutions (AlSayyad & Roy, 2006, p. 5). The negotiability of value operates through the shifting designation of informality itself. For example, as Asher Ghertner (2008) has shown, the discourse of illegal encroachment in relation to slums in Indian cities is relatively new, and is closely linked to a shift in court rulings that position slums as nuisances that pollute public spaces rather than as neighbourhoods where the state has failed to provide adequate services (such as water, sanitation, drainage and rubbish collection). The new value accorded to the notion of nuisance reects the efforts by the politico-corporate elite of cities like Delhi and Mumbai to become world-class citiesi.e. clean and nuisance-free, and therefore slum-free (Ghertner, 2008). As Ghertners (2008) research on petitions for slum demolitions led by resident welfare associations in Delhi shows, nuisance in this context becomes spuriously linked to the idea of illegality itself: the declaration of slums as a nuisance performs their illegality, and conversely, declaring slums illegal presumes their ontological status as a nuisance. This new nuisance discourse recalls older colonial descriptions of the urban poor in which informality is cast as polluting and contaminating, but brings a new valuation of commodied, sanitised, aestheticised formal urban space in the form of what Amita Baviskar (2002) calls bourgeois environmentalism. The informal is devalued as not only legally illegitimate, but visually, socially, and spatially illegitimate. Closely related to this, is a conception of informality as an idiom of urbanisation. Strands of Ananya Roys work (2004, 2009a, 2009b, 2011) usefully depict informality as a state of deregulation maintained by the negotiability of value. The political, economic, and legal elite can use or suspend the law to enable violation of, for example, planning or building controls in order to allow new developments. Drawing on Holstons (2008) work on Brazilian cities, Roy (2009b, p. 80) asks: Who is authorised to (mis)use the law in such ways to declare property ownership, zones of exception, and enclaves of value? The state, she goes on, can use informality as an instrument of accumulation and authority by placing itself outside the law in order to enable a particular form of elite urban development. Informality, in this perspective, becomes central to the urban planning regime: By informality I mean a state of deregulation, one where the ownership, use, and purpose of land cannot be xed and mapped according to any prescribed set of regulations or the law. Indeed, here the law itself is rendered open-ended and subject to multiple interpretations and interests, the law as social process is as idiosyncratic and arbitrary as that which is illegal (Roy, 2009b, p. 80). Informal governance practices have

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been reported in, for instance, deals for land acquisition by corporate actors or criminal gangs in Tokyo and Mumbai (e.g. Sassen, 2001; Weinstein, 2008). In advancing these arguments, Roy (2011a, p. 233) shifts the focus beyond an ontology of the megacity as formal/informalthe idea that informality is the habitus of the dispossessedtowards a view of informality as a heuristic device that uncovers the ever-shifting urban relationship between the legal and illegal, legitimate and illegitimate, authorized and unauthorized... that serves to deconstruct the very basis of state legitimacy and its various instruments: maps, surveys, property, zoning and, most importantly, the law. The Indian city, writes Roy (2009b, p. 81), is made possible through an idiom of planning whose key feature is informality. The consequence is an ontology of the city that is always already formal and informal, and that is fundamentally constituted by fragmentation: The splintering of urbanism does not take place at the ssure between formality and informality but rather, in fractal fashion, within the informalized production of space (p. 82; emphasis in the original). Crucially, it is the combination of informal practices and formal revanchism through law, policy and regulation that renders this sort of urban development possible and powerful. For example, the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games Village was built upon land that the Delhi Development Authority (DDA) had shown to be ecologically sensitive oodplains for the Yamuna River, but by the time the DDA had sought approval to stop the development, its construction was already under way. This informal practice required formal facilitation using the law as social toolfor instance, in 2004 the Supreme Court of India issued an order to demolish the homes of more than 150,000 slum residents who were occupying the land for the Games Village (Ghertner, 2010). In the next section, I consider how the reconceptualisation of informality and formality as practice sheds light on a particular moment in Mumbais contemporary history: the 2005 monsoon oods. The oods had a signicant impact on the citys physical and imaginative worlds. The crisis prompted a wide-ranging public debate about informality, dened not merely in territorial terms (the slums) but as a set of extra-legal practices which, in conjunction with formal practices of policy and regulation, had been used by the state and developers in a manner that detrimentally affected the capacity of the citys natural resources to defend it from oods. Crisis and the Figure of the Informal: Mumbai Floods On 26 July 2005, 944 mm of rain fell in a ve-hour period in Mumbai, leading to oods that covered one third of the citys surface. The water reached almost 5 m in depth in low-lying areas. This was the heaviest rainfall since records began in 1846, but there was no weather warning. Over one thousand people are estimated to have been killed in the destruction, predominantly in low-income neighbourhoods where they were drowned, electrocuted, or buried in landslides. Electricity supplies were cut, mobile phone networks faltered, public transport ground to a halt, and the citys suburban rail systemkey to the economy and social fabricwas out of service for 18 hours. The drainage system was overwhelmed, and in some places oodwaters did not recede for days, leading to localised outbreaks of malaria, dengue and leptospirosis. Many people spent up to two days away from home, trapped on roofs or in schools with little or no food, water, or medicines. Many were separated from their family, including children who were at schools or playgroups. In one settlement in Govandi, north Mumbai, a toilet block, as the highest structure in the area, provided refuge for local people as oodwaters washed away or destroyed fragile housing and infrastructure (see map of Mumbai, Figure 1).

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Interviews conducted in a slum in Khar, Bandra revealed that local people, having lost property and suffered housing and infrastructure damage, did receive promised government help. Each family was given INR5000 through central government relief, as well as quantities of rice, wheat, dahl (lentils), and cooking oil. However, they had to wait a month for this help. One resident, Vasin-al-Hassan Qureshi, lamented: We lost everything. Our furniture, clothes. Nothing is remaining here. He had walked from Govandi to his house, having spent the rst night stranded on a yover at Kurla. In a nearby settlement in Santa Cruz, a western suburb that suffered high levels of ooding, one woman whose house was inundated with 2 m of water waited three months for the INR5000 compensation. Many others complained that

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Figure 1. Map of Mumbai. Source: Colin McFarlane.

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many families received nothing and that donations were often dependent on informal government connections rather than actual need. One man said people had given up trying to obtain compensation: Why go ght with the government? We cannot go ght with the government for not doing things they should have done. In Shivaji Nagar, Govandi, a sewer line running through the centre of the neighbourhood blocked during the ooding and spilt onto the lanes. With parts of the settlement practically washed away by rubbish, people were left living on piles of newspaper or under plastic sheets supported with a bamboo stick on a nearby city dumping ground. Apnalaya, a local NGO working in the area, distributed kerosene tablets and medication for jaundice, but complained that compensation payments, grain, and kerosene were not forthcoming from the state, partly because the settlement is unauthorised and partly because of a high Muslim population in the area, who have historically suffered state prejudice. As many commentators have shown, the state authorities were in disarray following the oods and all but a few clusters of committed ofcials abdicated responsibility. But, as Anjaria (2006, p. 81) points out, although the police and municipal government were nonfunctional, there was no looting, theft, or violence: The public did not simply refrain from committing crimes; they demonstrated an outpouring of spontaneous acts of kindness and generosity. Throughout the night and the next day, people came out of their homes to hand out biscuits, bananas, bottled water, and cooked rice and lentils to those stranded in buses. Restaurants and street vendors gave out free food to people who had walked hungry through the night. Slum residents handed out food and water to drivers trapped in their BMWs; middle-class families opened their two-room apartments to groups of strangers for days; one rickshaw driver who found a lost, mentally challenged boy fed him for two days and nally located his parents home; and countless anonymous strangers handed out medicine to the elderly. Media reports, and here I am focusing on English-speaking media in the city, were replete with stories of slum dwellers rescuing those stranded in cars, offering chai (tea) and biscuits and, in many cases, space to sleep in. In contrast to discourses of social collapse and malaiseso often the dominant narrative of megacities in the global souththe citys slum settlements were seen to demonstrate an infrastructure of generosity and hospitality in the face of severe and multiple network infrastructure collapse. There was a sense in which the crisis had not only revealed something of the resilience of Mumbaikars, but that people had come together. Rediff, a popular Indian web portal that includes blogging and social networking, asked Mumbai residents to share their experiences on the days after the event. In the online discussion, one local businessperson wrote on 27 July: What was interesting to observe through this period of abnormality spanning four and a half hours, was the attitude of the people. Whilst the younger lot was enjoying the water at Marine Drive and revelling in the downpour; the older lot on the streets; appeared to have resigned themselves to their fate and were trying to make the best out of the catastrophe. Even the cars which were bumper to bumper and inching along at a snails pace, were disciplined and I did not get to see the usual uncouth behaviour. (Bapat, 2005, no pp.)1

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Groups of residents, workers and students distributed food and water to people stranded in buses, cars and workplaces. Another contributor to the Rediff discussion wrote: The water level was so high that we could reach out and touch it. But the ood of people walking eclipsed the oods. They were laughing, singing, dancing and no one was complaining. This is what makes Mumbai the commercial capital of the country. Not the money, but the spirit of its people. There were young men on the streets keeping people away from potholes and gutters. They were dripping wet but looking after strangers. A few men directed us into the shermen colony on the Causeway. They told us it would be better than the main road. So we followed the crowd. (Dossal, 2005, no pp.)

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In the immediate aftermath of the ooding, Mumbais slum population was inserted into a narrative of a collective, resilient Mumbaikar spirit. Writing about slum community activist organisations such as the National Slum Dwellers Federation based in the city, Stecko and Barber (2007, p. 12) wrote: Groups such as these have worked for years to band the poor communities of Mumbai together and increase the cohesion in order to become a legitimate voice in the arena of Mumbais politics. Many believe that these alliances and functions helped support the resiliency of the community to the July 2005 ooding. Communities were used to utilizing their own coping strategies and had previously formed collectives without the help of the government. The media, so often hostile to slum settlements as illegal encroachments that have no place in an aspiring global city, indulged in a temporary romanticisation of the citys informal poor. The critical magazine Frontline captured some of the mood of these reports: The spirit and resilience of the people of Mumbai also came out. Ordinary citizens opened their homes to strangers. People provided food and water to those stranded... A pregnant woman was accommodated by slum-dwellers. (Katakam et al., 2005) The event led to a wide-ranging debate amongst various populations in the city about the relations between slum settlements, state responsibility, and the possibilities of a modern city protected from these sorts of catastrophes (McFarlane, 2009). For example, the Concerned Citizens Commission (CCC, 2005), a network of environmental activists and journalists, argued that a key cause of the oods was uncontrolled development over wetland areasincluding the destruction of mangroves to make way for new property development, construction along the citys Mithi River, and illegal dumping and slum encroachment on storm water drainsexacerbated by a lack of government planning for disasters, and the simple combination of unprecedented rainfall and high tide in a low-lying city (see also Prabhu, 2005a, 2005b). According to the CCC report, two largescale development projects were particularly problematic, namely the expansion of a runway for the international airport, and massive land reclamation for the Bandra-Kurla complex (a relatively new business district). These narrowed the width of the citys river, as well as radically altering its course. As Anjaria (2006) and Katakam et al. (2005) relate, the worse incident occurred in Saki Naka nearby Bandra-Kurla, where a section of a hill collapsed, killing over a hundred people. The media sought explanations for the extent of ooding, but only rarely mentioned the important Brihanmumbai Storm Water Drainage (Brimstowad) report, which was

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produced in response to ooding from the 1985 monsoon. It outlined the need for major infrastructural improvements to the storm water drainage network, but these stalled through a combination of a lack of state investment, delayed projects, and the states inability to satisfy World Bank loan conditions. Instead, media focus was on disaster planning and the implementation of laws, particularly the legal frameworks that regulated where development projects could take place. For example, the Coastal Regulation Zone rules prevent construction on the citys coast. However, development can take place in the non-coastal side of coastal roads, and development plans often identify coastal roads that never exist in reality in order to allow construction (Prabhu, 2005b; similar arguments have been aired following oods in other Indian cities, such as the monsoon oods in Ahmedabad in the summer of 2000see Ray, 2000). Here, formal development processes are suspended and substituted by informal agreements between state bureaucrat and developer. In these moments, the media strayed from a reex position of assigning blame to slums for blocking and encroaching into storm drains to a broader debate about the complicity of the state in illegal developments that concreted over natural drainage, narrowed the width of the Mithi river, and damaged natural coastal protection (especially mangroves). In this widening of the debate, there was a temporary shift in focus from informality as a site of slum failure and blame, to a practice that reveals state developer complicity in the causes of the ooding. As journalist Kalpana Sharma (2005, no pp.) wrote: To satisfy the greed of builders and developers, successive governments have turned a blind eye to the natural checks and balances that cities need. Thus, the coastal regulation rules are violated, thereby changing the pattern of the tides. Green and no-development zones have been thrown open for development. Areas marked for parks and open-spaces have been built upon... the real tragedy is Mumbais development model. Here, the development model is interrogated both for its informal and formal practicesits particular alignment of regulation and policy in the context of the suspension and bypassing of existing rules. One journalist at the time wrote provocatively of the rape of infrastructure by developers and the state, and reected on how the oods encouraged debate on the relationship between builders, developers, and the state on the one hand, and sustainability on the other. Even if such debate ultimately led to little change in those relations, residents nonetheless discussed the causes of the disaster and particularly the role of the state in the events. One contributor to an online Rediff debate complained the day after the ood: Thanks to the reclamation, greedy takeover of salt pans, garbage (thanks BMC [BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation]). But who cares in Mumbai. Politicians, government ofcials all want their pockets to be lled, make as much money as possible. Thanks to that the situation in Mumbai is this and we will blame it on the weather and high tide tomorrow. (Mehta, 2005) Blame for the ooding was assigned to a variety of causes: the blocking of drains by slums and by construction debris from developers; lack of state investment in drainage; rampant, uncontrolled development resulting in loss of mangroves, river space, and the natural drainage of green spaces; a freak episode of rainfall; rising sea levels and climate change; poor state planning for disaster management, and inability and lack of commitment to respond to the crisis; and outing of construction regulations. The attachment of blame oscillated in public debates between the state, developers,

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slums, and nature (broadly conceived), and clearly identication of a particular cause entailed a particular politics of blame (for example, the state blamed unprecedented rainfall and pleaded that it could not possibly have prepared for the event (e. g. see DMonte, 2007)). In interviews I conducted with engineers at the citys Storm Water Drainage Department, they consistently defended themselves by claiming that the monsoon had been a once in 1000 years event. One engineer claimed: When high-tide is there, no one can prevent ooding, and when asked who should be accountable, he laughed: see, ooding is inevitable. At times the state became more desperate, and even blamed plastic bags for the oods. Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh deantly stated following the event: Discarded plastic bags choked the drains and the sewerage and were mainly responsible for the unprecedented waterlogging (Times of India, 2005). The states Public Works Department began construction of a new sea wall stretching from Colaba in the southern tip of the city to Gorai in its north-west extremity. Some elements within the state, and more conservative city environmental groups, such as Citispace, blamed the poor for blocking up storm drains with illegal encroachment, and called for renewed efforts for demolition (e. g. see CCC, 2005, which was endorsed by Citispace). One engineer claimed in interview that the success of our project depends on these [slum] hutments being removed, and complainedrather bizarrely considering the frequency of demolition of slum settlements in the city and the medias general tacit support thereofthat the city was pervaded by a liberal culture in favour of slums, which meant that such settlements were not held properly responsible for infrastructure blockages. A key element in the politics of this debate was the sorts of informality that were identiedslum territory or state practice, as different groups tried to blame one another for the crisis. While the levels of rainfall were indeed unprecedented, the state was exercising simple political expediency in blaming nature or plastic bags for the event, and familiar bourgeois prejudice in blaming the poor. The oods were an indirect result of decades of low investment in drainage, a formal development infrastructure geared towards rampant real estate markets and the desires of builders, the informal outing of formal building regulations in uncontrolled construction (not by the poor, but by developers in collaboration with state ofcials), and a lack of disaster planning and co-ordination. However, given that nature is an unwieldy target, it was the poor that shouldered much of the states blame for the oods as they were accused of blocking storm drainage infrastructure. The Chitale Commission, a state investigation into the oods, focused on the part of Mumbai around the airport and the Mithi River, published its ndings in 2006 and within days the state announced a new three-year deadline for slum clearance around the international airport (Times of India, 2006). A similar rationale has been given for demolition in other parts of the city. While the broader public debate focused on the informal and formal state developer practices of speculative urbanism, the state sought to narrow the debate and return to a more familiar site of blame and conception of informality: the informal settlement. But the debate had got away from the state. The fantasy of the politico-corporate elite of Mumbai of transforming the city into the new Shanghai with world-class infrastructure fell apart amid the scenes of devastation and the anger that resulted from them (see, for example, Bombay First, 2003). One of Indias leading business dailies, the BBC, wrote: Any aspirations, illusions or ne daydreams for standing up to some of the biggest and best global cities have now been crashed into smithereens (Majumdar, 2005). As Ananya Roy (2011b) has argued, world-class city making is a phantasmagoria that

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functions dialectically as development dream-world and as latent potential for disenchantment. The monsoon debate continues. For example, a 2009 book and art gallery exhibition Soak: Mumbai in an Estuarygarnered attention in the city, from both populace and media (Mathur & da Cunha, 2009). The work of a small group of artists and residents, Soak argues that monsoon ooding has become normal in Mumbai. Rather than seeing the urban poor as encroachers responsible for blocking storm drains, Soak criticises the destruction of the citys mangroves and the blocking of water courses due to the illegal dumping of waste by industry, as well as the informal complicity of the authorities in suspending formal regulations. In contrast to the states emphasis on slum demolition and on engineering out monsoon ooding by building ood defence walls along the citys Mithi river, Soak argues that the city needs to nd more adaptive ways of living with ooding, for instance by working with gradients. At the same time, however, the BMC has promoted many post2005 proposals for widening drains and constructing more pumping stations (e.g. see plans for Mumbai infrastructure improvement laid out by both the BMC and the Government of Maharashtra: http://mdmu.maharashtra.gov.in/pages/Mumbai/mumbaiplanShow.php). Here, blame is once again attributed to the slum settlements: one of the explanations the BMC frequently offers for ooding is the slow and complicated process of demolishing and rehabilitating slum dwellers living alongside storm drains and water courses. The 2005 crisis offered an opportunity to develop a critique of Mumbais development trajectory that shifted attentionif only momentarilyaway from informality-as-slums and onto informal and formal state developer practices. Rather than accuse the urban poor of illegality, this shift recognises that illegality is a central constitutive part of how the city is produced. There is political potential in this move, both as a mode of critique and as a platform for activism, which stretches beyond responses to the monsoon crisis. For example, activist groups such as the citys Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (GBGBO) (a housing rights movement) linked to the National Alliance of Peoples Movements, have been attempting to bring cases of encroachments by informal state developer partnerships to court, for instance by demanding answers to questions about how developers were able to bypass regulations in the construction of shopping malls on land reserved for other purposes, or through Right to Information appeals. Simpreet Singh of GBGBO described how the organisation has compiled data on the encroachment of the urban elite through shopping malls and illegal land seizure, and has led Public Interest Litigations (PIL) at the Mumbai High Court. For instance, following the 2006 slum demolitions in Ulhasnagar (just north of Mumbai), a PIL was successful in securing a stay of further demolition for 18 months. Here, the politics of informality formality are inverted, as a group of activists seeks to render visible the hidden informal development practices of the state corporate world using the formal realm of law and regulation. What is legal and illegal is very supercial, added Singh. Politically, such campaigns are arguing for greater compliance with formal regulatory processes that prevent, for example, demolition (especially without due consultation or compensation) and construction on ecologically sensitive land. But they also go beyond this. The monsoon crisis served to illustrate the importance of campaigning not just against informal urban practices, but against a combination of informal practices, formal urban trajectories, and governance regulatory structures in the city. The accountability of the state and the private sector, and the task of promoting urban social justice, require an alternative regime of informal formal practice that emphasises the value of genuine critical dialogue between different urban constituencies, and works towards a socially just

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urbanism. As Stecko and Barber (2005) argued in a report on the oods, the example of how different Mumbaikars worked together to cope in the face of the crisis could ground a new emphasis on urban collaboration in the planning of the city, where marginalised and vulnerable groups of slum dwellers enter into both disaster planning and the planning of the city more generally, in a genuinely dialogic and critical way. If we are to think of informality and formality as practices, it is important to open out the different ways in which the two interrelate and change over time. The monsoon crisis provides a particular window here, but there is much more to say about the different domains and forms through which informal formal practices relate to one another and act in cities. The nal section of this paper develops the discussion by highlighting three practical examples, building on the preceding discussion and considering both how we might differentiate between different regimes of informal and formal practice, and how we might conceptualise the relationship between informal and formal practice. Three Regimes of Informal Formal Practice As practices, informality and formality exist as a kind of meshwork (Ingold, 2011), an entanglement between different bundles of lines, representing the different ows and practices of the urban world. The meshwork stresses the fact that the urban is not readymade, but always in formation. From this perspective, rather than viewing informality and formality as xed categories, or as mutually exclusive, the two appear as lines of changing practice and movement, taking place not above or in advance of urban life, but within its unfolding. There is, for example, a temporal aspect to informal formal relations, as people (ofcials, residents, activists, etc.) move between formal and informal activities and arrangements, not just over the course of their lives, but also over a single day. In this section, I will highlight three particular combinations of informal and formal urban practices that impact on cities and urban life: rst, speculation; second, composition; and third, bricolage. The point is not to try to provide an exhaustive list of informal formal relations, but to explore three particular conceptual frames for thinking about the changing interrelationships of the two over time. First, one important meshwork of informalformal practices is Michael Goldmans (2011) characterisation of the making of the next world-class city through what he calls speculative urbanism. Goldman (2011, p. 570) highlights various ways in which different groups in Bangalore, including residents, government agents, land brokers, and international nancial institutions, become speculators of one sort or another, taking extreme risks and gambling on when government agents or land brokers (or violent nativist organizations) will tag their possessions next for acquisition. Goldmans work (2011, p. 563) traces increasingly corporatised practices of accumulation-by-dispossession, for example through the trend of placing elite corporate and citizen leaders in positions of power to circumvent existing forms of government decision-making. Echoing Roys (2009a, 2009b) interventions, Goldman (2011, p. 575) argues that the worlding of Indian cities has entailed new technologies of government in India that have given rise to a new mode of spatial production, one which transcends the problematic informal/formal dyad: so much of what happens on the ground in Bangalore today is over the question of land, fuelled by formal (yet opaque pastoral) state bodies working informally to change land tenure. A number of key interactions between informal and formal practices are at work here. Firstly, there is the demolition of, and/or offer of petty compensation for, rural households to make way for the construction of new townships outside Bangalore or Mumbai that

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are owned, developed, and built by overseas real estate and construction rms based in Dubai, Singapore, or the USA. Secondly, there is the privatisation of infrastructurethe latest instrument for foreign speculative capital in India (Goldman, 2011, p. 571)through urban infrastructural funds set up by corporations such as Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and Citigroup. Thirdly, there are more mundane forms of urban and rural land acquisition for the widening of roads, the construction of elite housing complexes, the extension of urban metro systems, or the carving out of special export zones. For Goldman (2011), all of these practices of speculative urbanism involve the suspension of basic human and civil rights, producing changes that fracture the metropolitan landscape via a tangled and confused web of informal and formal actions (of states, of forms of rule and reason, of judicial practices, of regulatory and legal suspensions, of corporate power). But how do both informal and formal forms of dominant power and political economy obtain this relentless capacity to invade and capture urban lifeworlds? And how can urban life resist their grip? This takes me to a second meshwork of informal and formal practices: urban composition. AbdouMaliq Simone (2005, 2008, 2010) has conceptualised urban life beyond the rubric of inclusion/exclusion or of civil society participation, instead focusing on the work that people do in urban environments. He shows that people collaborate, using each other as infrastructure, in ways that may be unstable, tentative, and temporary, but that also build a degree of economic security or opportunity, and a sense of the city. His work has uncovered vital forms of social architecture that are often invisible in academic accounts of urban life, such as the non-institutional economic encounters amongst migrants, the socialities of market trading, and the importance of routine, improvisation, and everyday practice in creating the gestured, contingent, and shorthand annotation instead of the memorial; exchanged glances and murmurs rather than documents. For Simone, such contingencies constitute the governing composites of associational life, an attempt by urban dwellers to anticipate and respond to the unexpected (Simone, 2008, p. 30). Formal and informal practices emerge here as relations of urban composition in particular spaces. Close description is needed to capture the ways in which different and sometimes unexpected openings and closures form and unfold over time. Importantly, in the governing composites of everyday life, formal and informal can themselves feature as useful resources that individuals can use to perform a particular kind of subjectivity. Ajay Gandhis (forthcoming) work on the sociality of urban bazaars in Delhi reveals some of the ways in which informality and formality as practices feature as resources. For Gandhi, the task for urban researchers is to try to understand not just what informality and formality are and how they operate in practice, but what they feel like and what they demand of urbanites invested in them. For example, Gandhi charts the ways in which notions of sincerity and irreverence, transparency and dissembling, loyalty and selshness are performed through self-conscious ideas about what constitutes formal practice and what does not. After all, Gandhi writes, what distinguishes people and classes is not their implication in, but rather pretence at obeying rules, following the law, and dutifully paying their taxes. Informality is, in this sense, a deviant, canny opposite to a straight man, the wily doppelganger of an institutionally sober formality. The straight man, the self-disciplined and productive member of society valorised in countless Indian school charts and textbooks, is less a class-bound privilege, or the teleological end-point of modernist reform, than a disposition that one can do and shake off as suits the purpose. In other words, informality and formality are not neutral social conditions as much as they are coeval dispositions in anyone. This emphasis on the changing relations

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of the formal and the informal over time leads to the third meshwork of informal and formal practice: urban bricolage. There is now a large literature on post-institutionalism that has both critically interrogated the idea that institutions are simply formal, and advanced an important set of questions about how institutions can work to reinforce unequal power relations and increase the role of dominant groups (Cooke & Kothari, 2001; Hickey & Mohan, 2004). For example, Frances Cleavers (2002, 2008) work on natural resource management in Usanga, Tanzania, shows how a variety of social institutions become embedded, so that they can operate for collective action. These are cooperative networks emergent in everyday relations, networks of reciprocity that constantly negotiate cultural norms. Cleaver (2002, p. 15) uses the concept of bricolage to describe how these cooperative networks combine with or replace contracts, legal rights and formal sanctions. Indeed, she goes further to suggest that without such bricolage and the social embedding of new arrangements, bureaucratic institutions are unlikely to be effective (p. 15). Cleavers emphasis on institutional bricolage points to particular instantiations of how the informal formal relation changes over time (Lombard & Huxley, 2011). Cleaver (2002, p. 17) uses institutional bricolage to highlight the t between institutions and the web of livelihood networks and practices in which they are embedded. This approach reveals how people move through different contexts and how they embody different agencies and identities over time (for instance the ways in which some Usangu people move from pastoralism to migrating in search of work, or working in mines). Peoples relationsin their economic, political, and social dimensionsare negotiated not just through formal institutions, but through households, networks, cultural norms, and practices, through conict, trust and cooperation, modes of power and authority, and exclusion, and through relations of gender, age, and religion. Existing decision-making arrangements and cooperative relations may be co-opted for new purposes, for instance where evangelical church choirs become structures for maintaining credit and collective labour groups across ethnic and religious divides (Cleaver, 2002, p. 21). These institutional relations are often improvisatory and intermittent, and can respond to change, for example in the introduction of new formal practices of regulation for managing water pumps (Cleaver, 2002). Sometimes new bureaucratic institutions do not embed into informality because they are seen as cumbersome, time-intensive, and out-of-touch with peoples everyday worlds, perhaps because they bypass forms of authority and cooperation that people already use. Equally, new formalised institutions can become embedded through bricolage, effectively shifting the dividing line between informal and formal relations, and assembling a new kind of institution. Urban speculation, composition and bricolage show that the relationship between informality and formality can shift over time, in a way that is complex, multiple and contingent. But this does not mean that we should replace a binary view of informality with a conceptualisation of their relationship as a continuum or spectrum. Instead, the two should be seen as inextricably related but distinct practices. Across different cities, and within cities, the informality formality regime varies. Notions of formal and informal are rarely neutral, and reect dominant forms of state, corporate, legal, residential, and activist power, and debates about the sorts of urbanism that should be valued, promoted, avoided, or removed. The practices of informal valuation and calculation that are common to real-estate speculators or currency traders are likely to be different from informal practices of housing construction in Rio or Mumbai. Yet there are also forms of informal practice that are held in common across radically distinct urban domains. Speculation, as Goldman (2011) describes it, is one

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example, of a practice shared but expressed in different ways by state actors as well as residents. Similarly, we can trace particular instances of bricolage-type relationships between the informal and formal domains across a range of institutions, from community groups to state bodies. It is partly for this reason that we cannot assume a priori that cities in the global south are more informal than cities in the global north. Attending to meshworks of speculation, composition, and bricolage over time would entail a rejection of any sense that informal and formal practices exist as a quantity that can be measured. We cannot assume that the inhabitants of slums in Mumbai or Mexico City practice more informality than low-income housing residents in New York or Londonit is more likely that the forms of urban composition involve a different sort of informality. In other words, informality is performed: it names a way of doing things. Residents in Mumbai and Mexico City often have to go through various kinds of middle men to get access to infrastructures, a practice often seen as indicative of informality; but just because residents of London do less of this specic sort of informal negotiation does not mean that their lives are less informal overall. One key example here would be the explosion of so-called participatory forms of planning in cities internationally. Faranak Miraftab (2011, p. 861) argues that informal politics has moved to the centre stage of planning practice and scholarship, that there has been an expansion in recent decades of conceptualisations of planning practice that include informal practices of urban dwellers and poor citizens in constructing their neighbourhoods, cities and livelihoods. There has been a greater emphasis, for example, on the participation of community groups and neighbourhood organisations, accompanying a shift in formal urban planning towards a more neoliberal and entrepreneurial mode, which has led to calls for more informal dialogue, meetings, working relationships, and networking. There is plenty of evidence that these forms of participatory planning structures are actually sutured forms of bricolage that fail to embed: they are top-down in practice, they tend to exclude more radical positions and groups, and they essentially perform a softer version of neoliberalism (e.g. Cooke and Kothari, 2001). They constitute one important example of the informalisation of urban planning that occurs not just alongside, but as a key constitutive element of, formal urban planning practices in the global north as well as in the south. But it is not just in the realm of planning that we can point to changing relations between formal and informal practices in the north as well as the south. We might think, for instance, of the growing popularity of informal urban markets in British cities. For example, as Watson (2009, p. 1582) has shown through her research on trading and shopping in the UK, marketsdiverse and often eeting spaces of encounter and association that differ signicantly from more curtailed shopping mallsare made through a particular valuation of the informal over the formal: the openness of market spaces, the proximity of stalls to one another, the lack of restraint on entering and leaving market sites clearly gave rise to a multitude of easy encounters and informal connections (see also Gregson & Crewe, 1997, on car boot sales). Formal transactions function to differing extents through informal encounters. While these forms of urban composition are often structured by socioeconomic and sociocultural relations, they also often exceed these through jokes, chats, and a sense of a buzz permeating the site (Watson, 2009, p. 1589; see also Simone, 2008, on markets and associational life).

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Informality and formality are as nomadic as cities themselves. They have no pre-given geography or political content, progressive or otherwise. They co-constitute and dissolve spaces, becoming politicised or depoliticised at different moments, and they both enable and restrict urban life. In closing, I want to highlight three implications of thinking about informality and formality as practices for researching the politics and geographies of cities. First, moments of urban crisis can throw the politics of informality and formality into sharp relief in the collective consciousness of a city, and, in doing so, can serve to contest those practices. The 2005 monsoon oods thus served as an occasion to air and to contest a number of critical claims about Mumbais formal and informal development trajectory, placing them centrally, if temporarily, at the forefront of debates in the citys mainstream media. The crisis shifted attention away from a concept of informality focused on slums, to one of urban practices of valuation and negotiation that suspended or disrupted formal regulations. The oods thus led to calls for a greater focus on formal regulations, and to a recognition that responding to the social and ecological inequities of Mumbais urbanisation required an exploration of the ways in which formal and informal practices combine. The debate was short-livedit did not alter the articulation of informal and formal in the long termbut it created space for a range of groups who seek to build an alternative urbanism based around a powerful critique of both the formal and informal urban practices of state corporate speculative urbanism. Second, the politics of informality and formality as practices are often provisional and can shift in nature. The wide-ranging debate around the Mumbai monsoon entailed a politicisation of debates about the role played by informal practice in the development of the city. Other forms of informal practice can also enact politics: we might think of the multiple momentary and small acts that politicise infrastructure, such as a local, informal, spontaneous protest around rising water costs or dysfunctional toilet blocks. Whether moments like this lead to a politicisation of informal and formal practices, or whether moments of informal practice enact a particular politics, the relations between informal and formal are shown to be negotiable and changeable, rather than xed. The causes of the politicisation of informality and formality as practices are contingent and cannot necessarily be predicted in advance, suggesting that there is an important temporality to how we understand informal formal relationsthey are interwoven lines that form a meshwork. Third, framing informality and formality as practices means dispensing with both the idea that informality belongs to the poor and formality to the better off, and the associated idea that informality and formality necessarily belong to different kinds of urban spaces. Thinking of informality and formality as practices rather than as pre-existing geographies allows us to understand the ways in which geography helps to determine the particular politicisation of these practices. At the same time, it requires a shift in how we register informal and formal spatialities: they no longer exist in specic territories within the city (whether ofces of state and investment companies or markets and community resource centres), but instead are involved in the production of space. In other words, these practices do not just take place in particular places, but are productive of particular spaces. This geography is fundamentally relational. The shifting divide between informality and formality does not only occur in particular places, but in the movement of practices through different places. Here, for example, there is an important set of geographical questions about how relations of informality and formality travel, and the politics of that movement, from models of formal development that are put to work through informal

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practices within and between cities (e.g. in forms of urban bricolage), or travelling forms of informal urbanism that move with tacit knowledges (e.g. activist awareness about how to build housing and infrastructure or lobby the state; both forms of urban composition). Conceiving of informality as a set of practices rather than as a territorial formation challenges the supposed illegality of slums, set against the apparent legality of formal urban development. It functions, then, as a form of urban critique, in that it seeks to expose both the double-standards of state claims about slums, and the forms of clientelism that facilitate so-called formal planning. Informality as practice can, then, potentially serve as a basis for rethinking not just informality, but planning itself, in cities across the global south. In doing so, however, commentators must avoid a conceptualisation of informality-aspractice that becomes yet another trope for deriding the city in the global south as corrupt. The claim here is a familiar one: that cities in the south experience planning as a form of fraudulent deal-making, where ofcials take a slice of developmental prots in return for contracts, or for exempting new developments from existing regulations. That this practice does occur is not evidence that cities in the global south are somehow more corrupt than cities in the global north. Indeed, part of the problem here is the very distinction of global south global north. As Alexandroni, 2007 has demonstrated, for instance, there is nowhere else in the world that deals with more corrupt money than the City of London, which handles and invests trillions of dollars of cross-border prots from criminal activities and tax evasion every year (Alexandroni, 2007). Indeed, the UKs refusal to bring prosecutions on this has led to warnings from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that it might be in breach of its stated commitment to the anti-bribery convention (Alexandroni, 2007). More generally, informal agreements and forms of valuation and negotiation drive urban development and urban life in the north as much as they do in the south. Speculation and calculation propel nancial markets, and negotiation, valuation and cultural aesthetics prop up urban real-estate markets, and assist in the informalisation and casualisation of labour as much as they promote everyday informal modes of urban sociality such as street markets. Rather than reinforcing epistemic divisions of global north and south, the diverse, complex, and contingent interactions between informality and formality should unsettle this categorisation, leading to a new, and more nuanced appreciation of the production of urban space across the globe.

Note
1. All names from online discussions have been changed.

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