The Multifaceted Relation between Formal Institutions and the Production of Informal Urban Spaces: An Editorial Introduction

  • Francesco Chiodelli Gran Sasso Science Institute
  • Erez Tzfadia Sapir College
Keywords: Informality, politics of space, public policy, law, administration


The paper provides an introductory theoretical framework for this special issue of Geography Research Forum titled "The Spatial Dimension of Informality: Power and Law". Firstly, the main weaknesses of the traditional ‘geography of informality’ are analyzed, including its tendency to focus on urban poverty in the ‘Global South’, to privilege its economic causes, and to treat the phenomenon in terms of clear-cut dichotomies. Then we stress the need for new critical approaches, which consider informality as an ordinary mode of the production of space that is structurally entangled with formality. In particular, the links between formality/informality and power, politics and policy require further investigation. To this end, this paper suggests a ‘four-lane two-direction road’ model which summarizes the main reciprocal impacts and influences between formal institutions and the production of formal/informal spaces.



AlSayyad, N. (2004) Urban Informality as a ‘New’ Way of Life. In Roy, A. and AlSayyad, N. (eds.). Urban Informality: Transnational Perspectives from the Middle East, Latin America, and South Asia. Oxford: Lexington Books, pp. 7-29.

Angel S. (2008) An arterial grid of dirt roads. Cities, 25(3): 146–162.

Appadurai, A. (2002) Deep Democracy: Urban Governmentality and the Horizon of Politics. Public Culture, 14(1): 21–47.

Balbo, M. (2014) Beyond the city of developing countries. The new urban order of the ‘emerging city’. Planning Theory, 13(3): 269–287.

Bayat, A. (2013) Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East, Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Booth, P. (2016) Planning and the rule of law, Planning Theory & Practice. 17(3): 344–360.

Castells, M. (1984) The City and the Grassroots: A Cross-Cultural Theory of Urban Social Movements. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Chiodelli, F. (2016) International Housing Policy for the Urban Poor and the Informal City in the Global South: A non-Diachronic Review. Journal of International Development, 28(5): 788–807

Chiodelli, F. (2017) Shaping Jerusalem. Spatial Planning, Politics and the Conflict. London and New York: Routledge.

Chiodelli F., Moroni S. (2014) The complex nexus between informality and the law: Reconsidering unauthorised settlements in light of the concept of nomotropism. Geoforum, 51: 161–169

Conte, A.G. (2000). Nomotropismo. Sociologia del Diritto, 27(1): 1–27.

Conte, A.G. (2011) Sociologia filosofica del diritto. Torino: Giappichelli.

Davis, M. (2006) Planet of Slums. New York: Verso.

De Soto, H. (2000) The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else. New York: Basic Books.

Di Maggio, P.J. and Powell, W.W. (1983) The Iron Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields. American Sociological Review, 48(2): 147–160.

Faludi, A. (1973) Planning Theory. Oxford: Pergamon Press.

Flyvbjerg, B. (2002) Bringing Power to Planning Research: One Researcher’s Praxis Story. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 21(4): 353–366.

Forester, J. (1989) Planning in the Face of Power. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Ghertner, D.A. (2015) Rule by Aesthetics: World-class City Making in Delhi. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Holston, J. (2008) Insurgent Citizenship: Disjunctions of Democracy and Modernity in Brazil. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hussain, N. (2003) The Jurisprudence of Emergency: Colonialism and the Rule of Law. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

International Labour Organisation (ILO) (2002) Decent Work and the Informal Economy: How Can Underlying Causes of Informalization be Addressed? Geneva: ILO.

Leaf, M. (1994) Legal authority in an extralegal setting: The case of land rights in Jakarta, Indonesia. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 14(1): 12–18.

Lewis, O. (1959) Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty. New York: Basic Books.

Lloyd‐Evans, S. (2008) Geographies of the contemporary informal sector in the global south: Gender, employment relationships and social protection. Geography Compass, 2(6): 1885–1906.

Mazza, L. (2016) Planning and Citizenship. London and New York: Routledge.

McFarlane, C. (2012) Rethinking informality: Politics, crisis, and the city. Planning Theory & Practice, 13(1): 89–108.

Meyer, J.W. and Rowan, B. (1977) Institutionalized Organizations: Formal Structure as Myth and Ceremony. American Journal of Sociology, 83(2): 340–363.

Miraftab, F. (2009) Insurgent planning: Situating radical planning in the global south. Planning Theory, 8(1): 32–50.

Mouffe, C. (2005) On the Political. London and New York: Routledge.

Payne, G. (2002a) Lowering the ladder: Regulatory frameworks for sustainable development. In: Westendorff, D., Eade, D. (Eds.). Development and Cities. Essay from Development in Practice. Oxford: Oxfam Professional, pp. 248–262.

Payne, G. (2002b) Introduction. In: Payne, G. (Ed.), Land, Rights and Innovation. Improving Tenure Security for the Urban Poor. London: ITDG Publishing, pp. 3–22.

Payne, G. (2002c) Conclusion: the way ahead. In: Payne, G. (Ed.), Land, Rights and Innovation. Improving Tenure Security for the Urban Poor. London: ITDG Publishing, pp. 300–308.

Perera, N.L (2015) People's Spaces: Coping, Familiarizing, Creating. London and New York: Routledge.

Perlman J. E. (1979) The Myth of Marginality. Urban Poverty and Politics in Rio de Janeiro. Berkeley, LA: University of California Press.

Peters, B. G. (2007) Forms of informal governance: Searching for efficiency and democracy. In: T. Christiansen & T. Larsson (Eds.). The role of committees in the policy process of the European Union. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, pp. 39–63.

Røiseland, A. (2011) Governance, Informal. In: Badie B., Berg-Schlosser D. and Morlino L. (eds.). International Encyclopedia of Political Science. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, pp. 1019–1021.

Roy, A. (2005) Urban Informality: Toward an Epistemology of Planning. Journal of the American Planning Association, 71(2): 147–158.

Roy, A. (2011) Slumdog cities: Rethinking subaltern urbanism. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 35(2): 223–238.

Turner J. (1976) Housing by People: Towards Autonomy in Building Environments. London: Marion Byers.

Tzfadia, E. (2013) Informality as Control: The Legal Geography of Colonization of the West Bank. In: Chiodelli F., De Carli B., Falletti M., Scavuzzo L. (eds.). Cities to Be Tamed? Spatial Investigations across the Urban South. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 192–214.

Tzfadia, E. (2016 forthcoming) The Grey Space of Colonization: A Legal-Geography Analysis of the Outposts. Theoya ve-Bikoret, 47 (Hebrew).

Tzfadia, E. and Yiftachel, O. (2014) The Gray City of Tomorrow. In: Fenster, T. and Shlomo, O. (eds.). Cities of Tomorrow: Planning, Justice and Sustainability Today? Tel-Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, pp. 176–192 (Hebrew).

UN-Habitat (2016) Slum Almanac 2015-2016. Available at:

van Horen, B. (2000) Informal settlement upgrading: Bridging the gap between the de facto and the de jure. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 19 (4), 389–400.

Wacquant, L. (2008) Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Watson, V. (2006) Deep difference: Diversity, planning and ethics. Planning Theory, 5(1): 31–50.

Watson, V. (2009) ‘The planned city sweeps the poor away…’: urban planning and 21st century urbanization. Progress in Planning 72(3): 151–193.

Yiftachel, O. (1998) Planning and Social Control: Exploring the Dark Side. Journal of Planning Literature, 12(4): 395–406.

Yiftachel, O. (2009) Critical theory and ‘gray space’: Mobilization of the colonized. City, 13(2-3): 246–263.