Reconsidering Informality: Perspectives from Urban Africa

Reconsidering Informality: Perspectives from Urban Africa

Reconsidering Informality: Perspectives from Urban Africa

Reconsidering Informality: Perspectives from Urban Africa


This book brings together two bodies of research on urban Africa that have tended to be separate, studies of urban land use and housing and studies of work and livelihoods. Africa's future will be increasingly urban, and the inherited legal, institutional and financial arrangements for managing urban development are inadequate. Access to employment, shelter and services is precarious for most urban residents. The result is the phenomenal growth of the informal city. Extra-legal housing and unregistered economic activities proliferate and basic urban services are increasingly provided informally. Recent decades of neo-liberal political and economic reforms have increased social inequality across urban space. After an introductory chapter by the editors, the contributions are grouped into the following sections: - LOCALITY, PLACE, AND SPACE - ECONOMY, WORK, AND LIVELIHOODS - LAND, HOUSING, AND PLANNING The case studies are drawn from a diverse set of cities on the African continent. A central theme is how practices that from an official standpoint are illegal or extra-legal do not only work but are considered legitimate by the actors concerned. Another is how the informal city is not exclusively the domain of the poor, but also provides shelter and livelihoods for better-off segments of the urban population.


The second conference under the auspices of the research programme Cities, Governance and Civil Society in Africa (1997–2002) was convened in Copenhagen, Denmark in June 2000. the conference was entitled “The Formal and the Informal City—What Happens at the Interface?” and was organized by the Nordic Africa Institute in conjunction with the Department of Human Settlements of the Copenhagen School of Architecture.

The thematic background to the conference was the co-existence and interaction of a formal and an informal set of rules and institutions in the cities of the developing world, a phenomenon which is particularly conspicuous in Africa. The informal city consists of extra-legal housing and unregistered economic activities. in contrast, the formal city consists of the city government and its agents and institutions, and rules and regulations that over time have been introduced in order to control the urban space. the formal and the informal city meet at a series of interfaces, as when regulatory frameworks are adjusted and readjusted in response to the widening boundaries of informalities, or when government agents arbitrarily enforce some rules but not others. in many cases, some activities are formally extra-legal, but considered legitimate by the actors concerned.

One preliminary observation based on the response to the call for papers and the papers presented in Copenhagen is that in African urban studies, the relationship between the formal and the informal city is an active and fruitful field of research. At the conference, there were 47 participants, 25 from Africa, 20 from the Nordic countries and 2 from the United Kingdom. in all, 23 papers had been prepared, drawing on material from 15 different African countries. of the 12 chapters in this book, 11 are revised versions of papers presented in Copenhagen, while Chapter 1 and the introductions to the sub-sections were written after the conference was held.

Many people contributed towards making the conference a success, first and foremost, the authors of papers, the discussants and the other participants. On the practical side, thanks are due to the conference secretaries Ingrid Andersson and Kirsten Ditlev. We would also like to thank the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for providing supplementary funding for the conference.

The preparation and publication of this book involves the efforts of many people. First, we would like to thank the contributors for their industry and, as time went by, their patience in responding to yet another set of suggestions for the revision of their chapters from the editors. Elaine Almén did a language check of the whole manuscript. Ingrid Andersson, assistant to the programme Cities, Governance and Civil Society in Africa has performed a variety of tasks. Among other things, she has kept track of authors and manuscripts and checked bibliographical references. She also drew up the list of Abbreviations. the index has been constructed with the help of Margaret Binns. Finally, two anonymous referees for our publication department have contributed many insightful comments and suggestions. They have all been carefully considered in a final round of revisions.

Evanston and Oslo, July 2003

Karen Tranberg Hansen and Mariken Vaa . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.