Volume 45 Number 176,
January-March 2014

Urban Informality and Uncertainty: How Can Informalization be Studied in Metropolises?, Felipe de Alba and Frédéric Lesemann (coordinators). University Program on City Studies-unam, Mexico, 2012.

Under what circumstances do informal activities become illegal or criminal? The Continental Research Network on Informality in Metropolises (recim) posed this question to a range of experts, asking them to respond in a space for reflection and discussion. The result was this text, which aims to serve as a teaching resource for all of those interested in the topic.

The book begins with a review of the concept of informality and its various dimensions, including all human activities that deviate from the pre-set rules defined by the State or society. With a traditional analysis of the concept and its history, this section provides a broad overview of the raison d’être of informality and introduces three basic analytical approaches: the first is a macro sociological perspective, the second is systemic and the third is concerned explaining the modern manifestations of the phenomenon and functional action strategies.

The first section, “Informal Labor and Commerce,” consists of four essays that begin the study with a breakdown of the North/South division of labor activities. It provides an analogy of the welfare state and defender of social justice, equality and liberty, while also promoting universal access to social security. It shows that labor relations in the South, dependent and exploited in nature, seek to imitate the North by setting up systems tolerated by government entities.

A second essay develops this topic with regards to local systems, studying how the ideal model can also be established in the major cities of the world, generating internal marginalization that reflects the unfavorable conditions of economic formality. This study begins with a conceptual framework and introduces theoretical-methodological advances, the background and history of how the sector has grown, as well as the real results of public policy as seen in the examples of the clothing sector and commerce on public roads, a clear instance of the reduced role and urgent need for the state apparatus.

With this background, the third essay analyzes the ethos of informality within neighborhoods as a precursor to illegal practices and describes the functional relationships among social actors. The neighborhood creates its own identity by sharing cultural and social principals. The term itself is marginal, and informality is therefore a principle of its very existence. Abandoned communities generate an environment in which informality is acceptable and illegal activities are even favored.

This section closes with an interesting analysis of the La Merced neighborhood regarding informal commerce, insecurity and other aspects of informality that have resulted since the area established itself as a supply center, becoming fertile ground for tolerated activities. A wonderful conclusion that summarizes the works in this section and leads in to the next is composed of two essays, entitled, "Migration and New Citizenships."

The first of these essays uses a study on clubs of Dominican migrants to present the manifestations of so-called social remittances and their effects on the migration and development equation. It describes their groupings, structures and practices and studies their effect on the informal relationships established with the states. In other words, it seeks to analyze trans-national governance and governance under fragmented sovereignties.

The second essay analyzes how this situation is manifest in the territory of Mexico. If migration and development are inseparable, this work invites us to consider the concept of co-development to understand the relationships generated at each moment in history. Working under the paradigm of diaspora states, revisiting programs such as the 3x1 and understanding the reality of these trans-national political actors helps to visualize this co-development in all of the necessary directions.

Finally, the third section, “Urbanity, Imagination and Urban Space,” brings together five works with a vision of the social construction of reality from traditionally informal points of view that have gained ground in the collective imagination.

The first is based on the idea that globalization, understood in three dimensions – the mobility of capital in different ways, the constant displacement of people and the regional and trans-national specialization of services – as well as social groups, respond in diverse and interrelated ways to change their historical conditions. Looking at Texcoco and the indigenous Mazahua women and the Popular Assembly of the Peoples of Oaxaca (appo), this section describes their shared model of protest.

The second analyzes two rather tense cultural phenomena, regarding how people suffer and experience discomfort when something prevents them from enjoying a legal state, specifically, Mexico's death cult, the cult of Santa Muerte, and the legend of the ungovernable neighborhood of Tepito, where impunity is rampant. According to its members, there are populations in the midst of urban informality, trapped in illegal and quasi-legal positions in the midst of clientelism and a lack of public accountability.

The third work seeks to situate informality in the context of sociopolitical transformation, revealing a metropolitan order of social space, as well as the outcome and processes involved. Analyzing Caracas, it describes how informality grew in this space, the implications of its presence and the contingency of its construction, detailing its most notorious phenomena: insecurity, economic informality and urban housing.

The penultimate work uses the history of the collective Arte Bajo la Ciudad (Art Below the City) to describe the competition among social actors for spaces and their proposals and negotiations with those legally in charge of the Collective Transportation System (stc) and the Mexico City Metro to keep up their activities. The illegal holders of these spaces had to join these negotiations in pursuit of tolerance.

Finally, this book closes with a text and a solemn phrase, ascertaining that the public administration in Mexico is managed with informality. Reviewing the evidence set forth, the decreasing importance of the State and the spaces won by informal administrators and their connections with national policy, it is clear that we are facing a panorama that will be difficult to solve, but for which there is a broad field of action.

This book therefore serves to recognize this situation, but also as a list of actions and tasks for all levels of research and administration to contribute to improving the quality of life in our metropolises.

Iván Sánchez
Institute of Economic Research – unam

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Published in Mexico, 2012-2018 © D.R. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 195 October-December 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
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