Re-spatialising urban informality: reconsidering the spatial politics of street work in the global South.
Author / Authors:
International Development Planning Review, 41:1.
Cities in the global South have long been characterised by dynamic street economies. Large numbers of urban residents have derived livelihoods by appropriating urban spaces in ways that can sustain their economic and social practices. Such appropriations are, however, being reversed in many places. Previously created spaces are being reduced, tightly controlled or reclaimed by powerful actors. The spaces, subjects and practices of street work are increasingly problematised as a threat to an envisaged socio-spatial order and as a priority field for intervention. They are increasingly targeted by a variety of political technologies and practices that redefine and refashion key livelihood spaces and delineate the appropriate behaviours and subjectivities to be included. Spatial interventions are intensifying with a view to separate, remove or enclose street work practices and populations seen as problematic. These attempts to govern informality are variously deployed across urban space and contribute to a re-spatialising of informality and the redrawing of socio-spatial configurations of urban exclusion and inclusion. But these attempts are seldom complete. In many cases, street workers are able to maintain a presence in highly contested spaces or learn how to navigate the highly uneven patterns of spatial regulation in the city. This article discusses the different ontologies of informality and suggests a more comprehensive picture of the spatial politics of informality. The article then discusses related thematic areas that run through this special issue: the multiplicity of actors governing street work spaces; the diversity and ambiguities of state-led interventions; street workers’ diverse spatial practices; the contradictory nature of their agency; as well as the material infrastructures of street work.