Time Space And Informality Cultural Studies Essay

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This quote makes us to think on the labour market in a particular city - its demand and the economic insecurity of a labour in that national state. More elastic labour demands - rise the volatility of wages and employment. Components of globalization and international trade increases the economic volatility which in turn increases the worker insecurity in advanced economies. There has always been a significant tie-up between labour market and informality ever since it has been evolved. This paper rather unveiling the connection between the two, deals with how this labour involved informality plays a central role for a city to globally compete. But before going in to the context, it is important to clarify what informal means and how is labour linked to it?

Individuals themselves are not informal, but the way they behave and the activities carried out by them are informal. Cases to define informality are infinite, but one such aspect may be pertaining to so called productivity, where informality accepts a legal definition in the labor market. Though there is a clear evidence that this informality constitute a large percentage of employment opportunities and output in all developing countries and the informal sector is considered by many urban policy makers and social actors as a source of employment that developing countries hysterically need, on contrary, there is an indication that informal firms are less productive, employ unskilled labor and pay low wages. One intriguing thing is that this informality and its function makes it central for a few cities in developing or third world countries to be globally competitive, and this is what my argument also relates to in the case of Mumbai reflecting upon its informality and the spatial characteristics it conforms to. On the other hand, my argument would peek in to the aspect of weather such kind of losing control in the political structure which allowed this informality to be housed in to its fabric is beneficial.

Another aspect of issue dealing with this paper is the role of the state, playing a central role in restructuring the economy by adopting few urban policies, especially the case of Mumbai. Cities to jump in to the global network linked cities, especially the ones in developing economy, requires state intervention in restructuring the economy, thus making it competitive. But still few cities remain as an example where development under globalization remains unplanned and incoherent. What really happens in case of Mumbai, in throwing out the existing informalities, just for the spoon of gold for the private investors.

On discussing these three aspects, this paper would focus not on solutions either for cities in terms of urban policy making, or eliminating informality, rather suggestive in terms of Informality being the expression of the city, policy implications of informality and idea of a city as an elastic urban condition - not a vision but a grand adjustment.



The idea of "informal" came in to existence in the late twentieth century in the developing economies to define its urban set of social, political, economic and spatial processes, which linked irregularity, complexity, uncertainty with very minimum levels of productivity in the production of goods, services and built environment. This idea has been existing in the past, - what was new was their expansion and growing articulation in the process of growth and economic development which in turn were supposed to eliminate them in time. There are vast number of terms to define the informal type of activities that generates income. The terms "informal", "underground", "covered", "hidden", "masked", "unpublicized" are conventionally used alike, but the definitions of it refer in terms of how one conceptualizes it. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), it is categorized in to two groups which can be accurately defined. The first kind accentuates the dualistic and incidental nature of the labor market, and defines "informality" in terms of the characteristics of firms and working conditions. The second category makes a mention to the legal character of the economic activity. An economic activity is defined as "informal" if it is legal but not legally recorded/registered.


Tracing back in the line of argument of formal and informal, the informal existed when the formal system began to be structured, and so the formal system contains an informal content that has been formalized.To discuss the question of "informality" there are lot of various concepts and interpretation, but as a matter of fact that, there is no distinct border between formality and informality in the legal sense. Informality may be central or sometimes peripheral to the formal system. It is in my view that informal penetrates in almost every aspect of formal functions in a society, where informality in reality is not separated from, rather linked to the formal system and shaped by it. Nevertheless, the assumption of an informal as a system denote the way, informal practices are linked at various scales to various domains in the society and share a status in terms of its relation to the formal. One could discuss more clearly about the limits of formality and the hinderance of informality in a very peculiar and day to day example of a recruitment process in an organization of any kind of firm. Informality pops up here in terms of the selection process in a firm where, the selection criteria is based on the formal tests and interviews they go through, but these constitute only a part of it. Here the informal arise out of the motive of the recruiter who is aware of the informal organizations in the corporation and must assess the employees ability to meet the expectations of formal and informal sectors in the firm itself. Informality, thus, is impressive in terms of its cruciality to the formal organization. Moreover, informality is not a characteristic of an informal system because the same can be affirmed legal or illegal, formal or informal, depending upon one's view toward it, and thus informality is a social construction. It has a sense of resistance and well as flexibility to change over time with respect to its spatial characteristics.



Time could be considered an important element is establishing the intimacy of informal space's birth and its organization in relation to a formal space. It can also be conceived that informal space is a by product of a formal space being utilized to suit informal needs and purposes. One such example to be mentioned could be a squatter settlement in a third world city. In the United States, junk yards achieve a similar role. It is an informal market place where the informal mechanics use it in a way that they get benefitted not spending it to an accessory store in the formal economy. It is also a place where one sells the second hand parts of a car or a place where repairs are done. In this case informal articulates a particular space which is flexible to accommodate differential uses over time, which adds to the local economy.


Space may be transitional or recurrent in nature, to inherit the changes occurring over time, a space should be flexible too. The use of space determines its formal or informal aspects, while it can accommodate both. The space is always dealt with a sense of dimension and it demonstrates a set of uses which it fits in to its structure. For instance, a room in a house may be used as a shop until the owner decides to move it to the formal organization. Front part of a house could accommodate other informal aspects like meetings and an unofficial office space. Things could be focussed in terms of spatiality when talking about home itself as a system. A user could formalize and in-formalize his/her residence in terms of edging, workplace and living room (formal) and rest of the house (informal). In few cases, as mentioned above, one room becomes an office ie. Factory, where we produce work to be consumed by others.This shows the duality of a space. Looking at the other side of the coin, the home may also be a work place for others, here the dual pursuit of home both as formal and informal is revealed. The poor from the inner city sees the home of the upper class as a place of work. This in turn takes us back to the discussion of formal supporting the informal, in this case where a home owner hires informal professionals to reduce his overhead costs. At the same time this informality assumes a space given to define itself.

Spatial implications of shifts may also be in capital flows - the case of London, New York, Tokyo has represented precisely the work being reorganized in line with the finance and service sectors dominating on one hand and the decline of manufacturing on the other. Even the reshaping and penetration happens in the Asian countries and economies are being restructured by global capitals, but the question here is that they don't play the same role as financial capitals, rather, assumes a subservient role in economic process and increasing their function as producer of services and developed countries, thus moulding themselves with different characteristics. This increase in function as producers is contributed mostly by the informality contained in the city and that is what the line of argument is, and what happens to this if it is eliminated (taking the case of informality in Mumbai - Dharavi).As dating back to the decline of manufacturing industries in India which led to a redundant labour force, which forced the people to take up livelihood in the informal sector (Asian Economic Crisis - 1997). This is an evidence of time as a dimension of change (Castells).



The entrepreneurship world situated on the centre having Mahim Bay to the west and Sion to the south, Dharavi proved to be the cheapest alternative where the rents were as low as US$4/month, on contrary to the fluctuating urban property market and the regulations that restrict the FSI greatly reduce the floor space which was available for the resident immigrants and the mass of cheap labour working there and to house the 5000 sweat shops. One should realize a fact that, this 175 acres of land which is a shanty town now is a result of unoccupied dried mangrove swamp land, used by the Koli fishermen before 19th century. The underlining fact is that, transformation of Bombay as a space to accommodate change at that period, thus began the island city. Dharavi's fishing community lacking to retain its traditional practice, but the newly drained marshes provided space for new immigrant communities to move in especially, the potters from Gujarat, immigrants from Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh taking their positions in the leather tanning and embroidery industries respectively.


The geography of informal space can be explained in terms of pockets of spaces where informal activities take place. Public places like car sheds (informal mechanics), public street (street vendors), street corners (drug dealers) are in-formalized or especially in the case of Dharavi where an informal entrepreneur transforms a room in his house as a sweat shop. Here informality arises, not for the sole reason that to engage in transaction with others, but to take care of there own needs.

In addition, this district has an approximated 5,000 businesses and 15,000 single room factories, and is a global exporter of goods and considered to have a large and informal turnover between US$500 to US$650 annually. This could be related to a situation dating back to the Asian economic crisis (1997) marking the decline of the manufacturing in India, where the supposed loss of jobs might have evoked the people or the immigrants to the scenario of survival, which in turn led to the increase in shift from working in a formalized system to opening up of an informal sweat shop adding to the informality of the space that characterizes it. Spatial informality exists by a way of exchange where both sides gets mutually benefitted from the interaction and it is often characterized by the phenomenology or personal needs of an actor, with an individual often familiar with his or her bizarre action.

As Sassen tends to enforce on the point that: "concentration of the informal activities in immigrant communities ... in the areas undergoing residential and commercial gentrification ... (and) the concentration of manufacturing and industrial services in certain areas that emerge as a new type of manufacturing district or service market" - (Sassen - Koob, 1989: 70-2). So one could even generalize that in-formalization of space has been distinguished in terms of the spatial location of informal economic activities.


On close analysis of a city, one could spot out that the various niches in the formal system, serve in there own way to house the informal practices to be carried out. That is the reason , we find some places sharing a dimension in terms of spatiality fits in different purposes, and the articulation of informality as a way of life has indeed a territorial basis of support. This combination of the urban space leads necessarily to the division between formal and informal space. On a closer look at the dimensions of formality and informality, we recognize that urban landscape is divided in to front and the back regions. The front region is the bearing of formal sector or the center of formality and the back region, as the name suggests, identified with the periphery and is the bearing of informal sector or the center of informality. The front region always tries to control and discipline the back region by virtue of their power (adoption of policies), and in turn back region develops an informal system of practices to avoid the control by the front region. In case of Dharavi, it could be called as a peripheral settlement once, which has now become the center housing formalized and in-formalized activities. It is hard to discriminate Dharavi in terms of front or back region in terms of spatial scales in an urban level, but even with the peripheral system, we realize that the space is further divided in to front and back region, where the front region covers the operation of activities in the back region. In a restaurant or a bar, where one may participate in illegal game affairs (gambling), attracts individuals who may be the potential clients of the front region where the legitimate business, serving food is going on. It is based on the actors who change the space, to fit in their uses, to increase their productivity and to support themselves, articulates the space with a dimension, naming it a front or a back region, which is still flexible in nature.


On the examination of the stumbling state project to restructure Mumbai in to a "world class city" and an international financial centre, my line of argument would be strategically opposing the elimination of informality from the roots of Dharavi. My argument is that, "What is so called as informality, informal sector, slums, sweat shops pertaining to a scatter like Dharavi, makes it functional to be competitive in the global markets. What happens to such informalities if the restructuring of urban policies concentrates on elimination of it, which would be discussed in short below. My discussion would be reflecting upon losing control on the kind of expansion happening on the periphery, now the center, due to the large immigrant communities entering in, by adoption of policies, has resulted in such a competitive city - that has its position in the global capital markets and the role of the state, playing a central role in restructuring the economy by adopting few urban policies.

The role of a state is critical, in developing economies seeking to shift their positions in the global networks and henceforth put in place the infrastructural and urban policies to make these cities a loci in the global space for the functioning of firms and markets. Thereupon, the state's capacity is important to the success of globally oriented urban restructuring. I would rather clarify a point taking the illustration of the nature of state in Mumbai and the slum redevelopment model of Dharavi. Mumbai's extent of informal activities are not outside the bounds of the state, though they might be invisible. Instead the state actors acting outside their official duties and regulations are actively involved in the production

and regulation of the city's slums, hawker spaces and informal industrial districts. Policies including urban restructuring which is complex and multi dimensional and highly involving the private sector investment to enjoy the beneficiaries of the centrally located land where there could be speculation of prices in the market, in order to eliminate the informality, by depleting the shanty towns and construction of a vertical block to accommodate functions in, would not suit a model in cities like Mumbai. Rather, it is because of this informality, Mumbai is placed in a position of cities in the global capital markets. It may be city itself moulding to this process to globalization, but the minimum intervention of state by adoption of policies in eliminating such informalities would rather cause an ill effect. Secondly it could intervene in the social conditions of people who benefits from informalities as their prime source of income. The geography of informal space in the city of Mumbai could be categorized in to three major areas - One is the immigrant enclaves, where the people are free to engage them in practices considered informal by formal standards, where the informal economy here is very strong, as the transactions here are outside the regulatory norms and legal rules of a formal city government. These quarters also provide a spatial niche for those who run and work in sweatshops which are extensions or branches of open manufacturing businesses located in the formal space of the city.This kind of informal space assists the facade of formal operation. The second one is more propagated major area where a pace is in-formalized is public spaces and streets and the third category of lesser importance with respect to policies is the residential home, which serves sometimes as a work place for informal workers such as gardeners and other workers. So a national state in this case, the state of Maharashtra, playing a central role in reshaping the urban policies, should have it in mind the extras or gain incorporated in to the nation's economy by the present informal systems and the strategic role it plays in being central to be globally competitive.


India, and especially urban India, is emerging as a unique landscape of confusing architectural and cultural diversity. The urban landscape is signified by intense duality, where modernism, tradition, culture, community, acute poverty, informality, informational technologies amalgamate to create inconceivable cities. Today in our urban area exists two cities - static and kinetic - two absolutely diverse worlds that conjugate the same urban space. The static city is represented through its architecture and the built elements which have some permanence in nature. On the other hand, kinetic city occupies interstitial space, is the city of dynamism - the kuttcha city, built of materials, temporary in nature. The static situated on the landscape of the kinetic city, in other words we could interpret it as formal being set in the landscape of the informal, where the kinetic or the informal contributes to the image of the city in the case of Mumbai. While static is being conceived through architecture, kinetic/informal is being perceived through spaces (Rahul Mehrotra).

In case of the Dharavi - Mumbai, the patterns of occupation determines its form as well as perception. It gives us a sense of how the spatial limits expand to fit in formal uses. The inter relationship between formal and informal is unveiled, and there is an evidence of the how both are being interlinked, which has been discussed in the previous sections. The notion of kinetic city of Mumbai, in the case of Dharavi is a form of informal city and a site of meaningful production (Sassen).

Adding to it, spatial practices are flexible, innovative, evolving and transformation. Spacial characteristics of informality is characterized by the multiplicity of the use simultaneously. This shows that, across time, space is easily modified and made flexible to fit in multiple used by a range of social actors, which in turn is evident in proving the characteristic of informality. In short, informal practices do not oppose formal planning aspects, rather its is a reflection of social actors make use of a sanctioned spatial practice to achieve a different set of objectives.

There has always been a shift in the structure, in which mumbai is in par competing with the global cities, trying to reinvent itself. The informality's existence, has made it possible for a mass of cheap labour, well trained to work with in the manufacturing industries occupying the major part there. It is informality, which makes it low and at the same time makes it functional to the process of development. It is informality which increased labour migration, and thus forming a relationship between ethnic neighborhood's and informality in case of Dharavi, where the community groups ethnic practices could be adopted. On hand Singapore has sustained itself in the list of the global linked cities in terms of capital flows and labor market, because of its size, ability to create homogeneous mixtures and to compete with speed in advances of transport and goods and management of flows, on the contrary, in Mumbai's case the competition comes through this informality. So in this case it can be supportive to the argument that, conditions central to its competitiveness rather being disfunctional. The city is beneficial in terms of this logic of insertion of informality in to it. Presence of labour intensive manufacturing and keeping the wages of laborers at a lower level, the informality sometimes relates to the characteristic of acute poverty and there arises a question of survival strategy. Last but not the least, the city of Mumbai is competitive because of this replication of the logic of informality and impoverishment. What makes Mumbai competitive are these function of replication and informality in the roots of Mumbai.


On the basis of the argument, there is a clear expression of "no distinction" between a formal and informal. Both may be stranded together or supporting each other and geographical distance is not necessary to distinguish them. If the formal space is the realm of authoritative practices, informal space is the realm of subdued practices, where the informal processes a dualistic characteristic in nature.Over the past few decades the concept of informality attained enormous importance, with informality gaining multiple forms and spreading far beyond the cities of the developing world to become both a central feature as well as a tool in the new forms of internationalization of capital at a global scale. So to conclude with, this paper would focus on the point that "Informality being the expression of the city", which should not be eliminated due to the restructuring of the economy, a careful intervention of policies are needed - which deals with "the policy implications of the informality". On taking Mumbai as a source of example for studying the informality incorporated with in it, and such informality making the city globally competitive, I would rely on "Idea of a city as an elastic urban condition not a vision, but a grand adjustment".