1) There is growing recognition of informality’s significance in the organization of human coexistence, both in terms of social relations on the ground and, increasingly, on the level of global interaction, with the informal sector estimated to account for half of the world’s economic activities.
2) There is also growing interest in the creative power of informality, with the prestigious Golden Lion of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2012 awarded to a project that recognizes the transformational strength of informal societies. An interest that is not least geared toward its capacity to mitigate the crisis‐ridden logic of the capitalist system. In fact, the area of micro‐finance is
currently being targeted as a prime emerging market by the financial industry following the collapse of the real estate bubble and the debt‐mongering associated with it.
3) An integration of informality exclusively geared to hegemonic economic and political paradigms raises the dual threat of augmenting the exploitative dimensions of informality while eroding the social and cultural wealth of informal relations.
4) How can we develop a more critical as well as more productive approach toward the problematics of informality that takes into account a multitude of different perspectives well beyond the narrow framework of official state and industry actors?
Such an endeavour involves, amongst others:
‐ to recognize the fact that the parameters of informality are not a given but a matter of definition; that the value systems attached to the informal is an issue of framing and perspective, of interest and intention.
‐ to challenge standard responses to informality. What defines the informal as inferior to the formal? What justifies the call for improvement, for intervention by external experts?
‐ to unhinge these narratives requires to liberate the notion of the informal from being conceived solely in opposition to and depending on the formal.
‐ to address informality not as something born solely out of concrete local circumstances but as embedded in a global politico‐economic logic. The reference points for analyzing as well as for engaging in informality thus originate not only in the realities on the ground but also in distant sites of decision making, such as multi‐national trade associations, global nodes of the financial industries and elite forums of international politics.
‐ to develop ways of encroachment that can interrupt the logics of solely profit‐oriented markets without emulating capitalist entrepreneurship themselves. For example, how can collaborative initiatives that aim for the development of more sustainable structures in the informal city avoid
spearheading the privatization of the urban realm?
5) Opening up to the complex, fractured and contradictory nature of informal systems ‐ acknowledging the voices of irregular lives, engaging in sites of informal exchange and in experiments of collaboration ‐ while also critically reflecting upon today’s political, social and economic dynamics, can bring us closer to at a genuine ‘Learning from Informality’. To connect with this intelligence constitutes the challenge for practicing a new political economy in line with both the agency of local populations as well as the vectors of global ecologies.
A two‐day research forum on the trading places of urban informality, co‐organized by the University of Hong Kong’s Shanghai Study Centre and the FWF Science Fund research project Other Markets