Georg-Simmel-Zentrum für Stadtforschung

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Georg-Simmel-Zentrum für Stadtforschung | Auszeichnungen | Hartmut-Häußermann-Preis "Soziale Stadt" | CITY LIFE IN LIMBO: GLOBALIZING URBAN INFORMALITY AND (IN)STABILITIES IN INFORMAL PRACTICE


Christian Haid

While much research in urban studies has engaged with informality and informalization processes in cities of the so-called Global South, informality as a lens to study cities of the Global North has yet not been explored extensively. Contributing to a growing body of literature on informality in the North, this thesis shows how informality is permeating through many different aspects of urban everyday life of a ‘western’ city and adopts conceptualizations emanating from the Global South through the postcolonial perspective of ‘worlding’ in order to develop a more global understanding of informality.

City Life in Limbo explores the state of uncertainty inherent to informal practice focusing on how and in what ways everyday informal practices are rendered both stable and unstable. Addressing this, the study develops the conception of urban informality as practice inspired by a practice theoretical approach.

The study develops the argument empirically based on an exploratory ethnography on multiple sites in the city of Berlin, Germany. The practices under scrutiny are informal work practices in public parks such as street vending and bottle collecting and practices of their enforcement by street level bureaucrats. Focusing on practices within three main field sites - the Thai market at Preußenpark in the district of Wilmersdorf, Görlitzer Park in the district of Kreuzberg, and Mauerpark in the district of Prenzlauer Berg - the study demonstrates the myriad influences on the (in)stability of informal practices via three different angles:

First, an introverted and self-referential perspective of everydayness in informal practices shows how practices of organization, spatialization, professionalization, and cooperation with the formal realm contribute to render informal practice more stable. Second, the study contends that informality is located at the contact zone of state and society, at the juncture of those who establish order and those to be ordered. Therefore the argument is developed that informality as practice is both, produced by the state but also inherent to the state and to state practices themselves, most notably in street-level discretion enforcing rules. Third, discourses impact on the stability of informal practices. Narratives of authenticity, of othering, and of referencing to the Global South are influential in both endorsing as well as stigmatizing informal practices and therefore supporting their (de)legitimization.

The developed argument of globalizing informality through informality as practice contributes not only to advancing the debate on urban informality to underrepresented empirical fields but also to an emerging broader project in urban studies to post-colonize and subsequently globalize urban theory.