CSI.SP: Researching Urban Informality by Kees Koonings (18 Mar 2009)


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Since last year more than half of the world's population lives in cities and towns. Urbanization has been a particular rapid process in developing countries, as poor peasants have been pushed out of agriculture and went to seek employment and other livelihood opportunities in the cities. In most developing countries, formal urban employment has not grown at the same pace as the urban economically actie population. As a result, the informal sector has become the principal domain for livelihood and survival of the urban poor. Yet, informality is not restricted to the structuring of wage labour and small enterprise; it also marks other dimensions of the life of the urban poor and excluded: social networks, grass roots movements, political participation, and security. The lecture will first give an overview of this process of informalization in the cities of the South. Then, the lecturer will make an argument for qualitative and ethnographic research methods being a particularly suitable tool to conduct research on urban informality. Kees will use illustrations from four specific topical fields: wage work and microenterprise, housing and service provision, social movements and political participation, and violence and insecurity.

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CSI.SP: Researching Urban Informality by Kees Koonings (18 Mar 2009)

  1. 1. Kees Koonings (Utrecht University) Researching Urban Informality Lecture 6: 18-03-09 20:00-21:30 Room F PARALLEL WORLDS LECTURE SERIES 2009
  2. 2. Researching Urban Informality: Key Issues and Qualitative Methodological Approaches Kees Koonings Utrecht University
  3. 3. Defining informal sector • Not illegal or criminal, but a-legal • Not or only partly registered • Not (systematically) regulated • Not protected • Not (systematically) taxed
  4. 4. Diversity of informal sector (casual work) • Micro-entreprises • Casual wage labour: in small firms/in larger businesses • Domestic servants • Self-employed: selling or providing a service in the public space • Borderline: beggars, petty thiefs
  5. 5. Dynamics and functioning of urban informal sector (in Latin America) Macro-level Micro-level • Absorbtion of surplus • Incorporated in population household survival strategies (alongside self- • Cost reduction within sufficiency, reproductive (global) commodity chain work, migration, • Low cost provision of conditional cash goods and services to transfers) (lower) middle and • Low treshold, high working classes turnover • Survival sector of urban • Under-payment and self underclass (recent trend exploitation within ‘global cities’) • Female and child labour • Precarious conditions
  6. 6. Informality and informalization • In general: the semi-regulated, semi-legal and semi- serviced domains of urban social life • Work, income, survival • Housing and collective consumption in the urban peripheries • Social mobilization: democracy of the street and ‘insurgent citizens’ • (In)security: popular (in)justice? • Political participation: deliberative democracy and institutional innovation • Examples>>
  7. 7. Housing and collective consumption
  8. 8. Social mobilisation
  9. 9. (In)security: popular (in)justice?
  10. 10. Political participation
  11. 11. Qualitative research: characteristics • (Hi)stories, events, discourses, connections [variables, scores, frequencies, co-variation] • In-depth case studies, deliberate sampling [random sampling, large data sets] • Fieldwork [survey] • Researcher is main instrument • Face to face: research = social interaction. Rapport • Diachronic perspective • Subjective perspective? • Representation and interpretation • Generalizations?
  12. 12. Qualitative research: key methods and techniques • Participant observation • Open interviewing • Informal conversations • Life histories • Focus groups • Written and printed sources • Watch, listen, talk, read (act), write-write-write • Jig saw puzzle of multiple data
  13. 13. Urban anthropology: two designs Urban Ethnography Rapid Urban Appraisal • Long and repeated • Short fieldwork fieldwork • Larger number of • Limited number of locations locations • Indirect “rapport” through • Direct “rapport” organizations • Diachronic • Snapshot Enrique Arias: Drugs and Caroline Moser & Cathy Democracy McIlwaine: Encounters with Violence James Holston: Insurgent Citizenship