Thursday, September 3, 2015

CfP (Journal) :Political Informality, Power and the Other Side of Urban Space

Call for Papers "Political Informality, Power and the Other Side of Urban Space"
L'Espace politique online journal (publication in 2016).
Papers can be submitted both in English and French.
More details on 
Submission deadline: December 15th, 2015.

Sébastien Jacquot (, Alexis Sierra ( and Jérôme Tadié (

Hands Over the City, Chinatown, The Elite Squad… these and many other films depict the influence of informal or even illegal practices in cities such as Naples, Los Angeles or Rio de Janeiro. Beyond the symbolic dimension of these cities, informal ways of governing the city emerge together with the diversity of power controls. Cronyism, obscure awards of public contracts, collusion, circulation of rumours, more or less autonomous forms of governance of neighbourhoods (self-management, lynching, vigilantes or control of markets by thugs, for instance), resistance (defined as mobilisations out of institutional realms), organised racket, all refer to the informal governance of the city. This issue of L’Espace politique aims at understanding the roles and meanings of informal practice in city governance and urban life. How does the diversity of urban power structures emerge and consolidates, in informal and sometimes illegal ways? What influence does it have on the production, administration and control of urban space?

By transferring the notion of informality – which is usually encountered in economics – to the political realm, this call for proposals seeks to explore the importance of arrangements and informal (even transgressive) practice in cities — the dark side of city governance as it were. The notion of political informality extends beyond the reference to the legal framework, and to its transgression. It points more broadly to common social norms, in relation with power structures. Thus political informality encompasses the “forms, practices, activities and expressions which, because they are not beneficiating of a recognition and a legitimacy from the prescribers and most influential agents of the field, are ‘rejected’ outside of this field even though they partake, fully or incidentally, in its constitution” (Le Gall, Offerlé and Ploux, 2012, p.16).

From this perspective, informality calls for another type of approach to the analysis of public policies, moving away from an approach which usually only takes into account official and visible policies (participative programs, decentralisation). We need to consider implicit underlying practices such as corruption or clientelism. In the practice of power and governance, informality invites us to take into account ‘political’ dynamics outside or beyond overt practice.

Questioning political informality also implies that we analyse the structure of urban power: their diversity, their everyday forms and practices, their articulations, their visibility as well as the mechanisms which legitimise them. Such studies can focus on the residents, the leaders, the political or economic elites, whether they interact or not. What are the conditions for such practices to become possible? what are the arrangements, tolerance or circumventing strategies? Are these power centres articulated to the forms of government (State, decentralised power, dominant local coalition, etc.)? What relationships do they entertain: do they build alliances? Are they autonomous or on the contrary do they compete? Are they in some ways more or less disconnected? Are they at the source of urban differentiation? In other words, does political informality produce power structures and spaces which operate differently?

The aim here is not to oppose, in a dichotomic way, a dominant legal sphere with subjects characterised by their informal political practice. We wish rather to identify the modalities of the construction of political spaces – if not of politics – either on the margins of urban intervention — playing the political game in order to reach specific urban goals — or in the practice of everyday city governance. City residents with little resources or access to the dominating spheres, intermediaries as well as elites, are all concerned with political informality. These arrangements are at the source of different types of fabric of the city, through their original articulation with urban space.

This special issue is at the junction of two academic traditions: urban studies – often focusing on the more official policies and dynamics – and the studies on informality – often too limited to the cities of the global South and to the fields of economy or criminality studies. We encourage contributions based on fieldwork in cities, which will be the basis for comparison between several local case studies. They can relate to the following topics (this list is non-exhaustive and with overlapping boundaries):

1. Political informality, everyday practice and the meaning of law in the city: proposals can examine the ways in which laws and rules are interpreted and transgressed in the everyday governance of the city. They can analyse how neglecting or circumventing those rules leads to reshape them (through favours, cronyism, nepotism, corruption...), as well as the roles and attitudes of the actors involved (public authorities, private actors, businesses, lobbies, mafias, city dwellers…).

2. Political informality and urban governance: can urban governance be analysed through the lens of political informality? How do groups of residents, coalitions of public or private actors or political parties emerge and maintain themselves? Does the State itself use informal repertoires in urban governance?

3. Political informality and resisting residents: beyond the institutional spheres of mobilisation and political contestation, what are the informal practices contesting established urban power structures? What are the repertoires of political action for the residents deprived of recognised political rights?

4. Spaces of informal organisation: certain spaces are governed through informal practices, by alternative, and sometimes criminal structures. How do they maintain themselves? What are their relationships — if any — with the State or the government? How do they build their legitimacy or get accepted by the residents?

5 The role of practical knowledge: what types of knowledge are used in the conduct of informal arrangements or the circumvention of rules? How are rumours, legends, etc.… articulated to political informality?

6. Arrangements and temporality: are there favourable moments or privileged spaces in the constitution, negotiation, conduct or contestation of such arrangements? They are based on different contexts and representations of the city as well as on sometimes changing networks. In such cases, how can they be secured and become permanent?

Contributions should be sent to Sébastien Jacquot (, Alexis Sierra ( and Jérôme Tadié ( before December 15, 2015.

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