The political meaning of informal urbanisation

RH Informal Urbanization[2]

The Routledge Handbook on Informal Urbanization is a handbook edited by Roberto Rocco and Jan van Ballegooijen, published in 2019 by Routledge. It explores the intersection between informal urbanisation processes and politics, particularly the political struggles associated with rural to urban migration, within processes of modernisation and democratisation.

The book is structured around narratives on 24 different cities around the world. Each chapter is developed by an independent author or authors, and develops accounts of how urbanisation processes (and informal urbanisation in particular) are associated with specific political struggles in different socio-political realities.


Many countries in the Global South are relatively young democracies. The resilience and legitimacy of their political systems depends largely on their ability to politically integrate and represent millions of citizens who are currently ‘excluded’ from formal social, political and economic structures. Exclusion from those formal structures has deep-reaching consequences and is reflected on the built environment as well, as many of the so-called excluded live in informal settlements.

Democracy’s success depends not only on the ability of formal institutions to respond to the legitimate demands and rights of its citizens, but it also depends on how these citizens are able to enter the political realm in order to formulate demands and claim their political rights. In this sense, informal urbanisation is not a solution for lack of housing in developing countries, but a step for the formulation of legitimate demands and to the inclusion of citizens in the realm of politics. By this token, processes of informal urbanisation might lead to the affirmation of civil rights, to the reinforcement of the rule of law, to the inclusion of citizens in formal institutions and processes and might therefore result in the formalisation of the built environment. Along the way, however, informality may lead to conflict and oppression, as informal dwellers have initially very little rights and are most commonly in breach of the law when they first build their dwellings in land that does not belong to them. The path to citizenship is long and sinuous.

The aim of this book is to investigate the mutual relationship between struggles for rights and processes of informal urbanisation and subsequent formalisation in different socio-political and cultural settings. It tries to find a middle ground between two opposing perspectives on the political meaning of urban informality. The first, the ‘emancipatory perspective’, frames urban informality as a practice that fosters autonomy, entrepreneurship and social mobility. The other perspective, more critical, sees informality predominantly as a result of political exclusion, inequality and poverty. Is urban informality indeed merely the result of a democratic deficit caused by governing autocratic elites and ineffective bureaucracies? Or do we see urban informality as a fertile breeding ground for bottom-up democracy and more political participation?

We have invited scholars, practitioners and doctoral candidates from all over the world to submit proposals for chapters. Proposals will be reviewed by the editors before being submitted to a group of senior reviewers. Selected authors will be coached along the way to formulate narratives structured around specific case cities, illustrating issues related to the politics of informal urbanisation around the world. We expect to gather a representative sample of cases from very different contexts in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and Africa, but will include also a number of cases in Easterna and Western Europe, as well as North America, which also face specific phenomena related to informality.

PLEASE explore the complete book proposal by visiting the different sections: the BOOK, the PROJECT and EXPECTATIONS from editors.

This initiative is related to the Research Cluster Randstad: Strategic spatial planning and design, which has a subgroup entitled International Development at the Department of Urbanism of the TU Delft. It has ramifications into education and research in the Department.

For further information on this project, please write to me at or fill in the form below.

The neighbourhood of Cabuçu in the city of São Paulo, Brazil, was lately built outside of the prevalent legal planning framework.
The neighbourhood of Cabuçu in the city of São Paulo, Brazil, was lately built outside of the prevalent legal planning framework.

For a collection of pictures on informal urbanisation, please visit HERE.


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