The dialectic of formal and informal urban enclosures and the production of the common space in Greece during the ongoing crisis

Charalampos Tsavdaroglou, Matina Kapsali

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


In recent years, urban informality has been the subject of renewed attention in urban studies, sociology and political economy. Following postcolonial theory
(McFarlane, 2008, Robinson, 2002), we seek to surpass modernist dichotomies
such as formal/informal and centre/periphery, as they re-produce a “colonial
paternalism”. Thus, we move beyond binaries between culturally and economically powerful global cities (of the North) and problematic mega-cities (of the South) and we challenge understandings of informality as uncontrolled and dangerous, as the “Other” of the urban development.

Our approach adds to the discussion around the socio-spatial relations and the power configurations in the production of the urban space, but does so by linking urban informality to the production of the common space in crisis-stricken cities. Following autonomous Marxists analysis (Caffentzis, 2010, Hardt and Negri, 2009), conceptualizing the commons involves three things at the same time: common pool resource, community and commoning. Urban commons don’t exist per se but they are making in times of social struggles and they are constituted through the social process of commoning. So, we understand informality as a way of urban development and urban politics that embodies varying degrees of power and exclusion, incorporating the possibility of challenging the existing power configurations. Hence, our approach calls for a broad, intersectional analysis of the common space and conceive the latter in a Lefebvrian (1974) trialectic conceptualization as perceived-conceived-lived space.

Based on this theoretical background, we seek to advance an aggregate
understanding of the dialect relation between formality/informality in the
production of the emancipatory common space in Greece in the midst of the
ongoing crisis. The neoliberal urban restructuring is justified through a
discourse of formalization of the spontaneous and unorganized development of
Southern Europe’s cities. Nevertheless, the new enclosures does not lie only on
formal practices but also on informal ones, related to the fields of race, class
and gender. Within this context, state plays a crucial role as it has the power to
determine what is formal and what is informal and overall which kinds of
informality could thrive, for how and where, and which will disappear. In other
words, it has the power to (re-)construct categories of legitimate and illegitimate citizens, of deserving and undeserving ones.

In particular, formal and informal enclosures emerge as an everyday experience of the urban inhabitants in Greek cities and include housing commodification, land grabbing, precarization of labour, various privatizations, gentrification processes and criminalization of certain population groups (such as sex workers, immigrants, squatters and homeless). Yet, the neoliberal city is a highly contested urbanity and the neoliberal urban restructuring does not remain uncontested. Through this reading, we explore the diverse forms of formality/informality and their degree and type of legitimacy, elaborating on these urban practices and processes that challenge the existing power relations and produce the emancipatory common space.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2014
EventCUI 2014 Contemporary Urban Issue Conference Informality: Rethinking the Urban 2014 - Istanbul, Turkey
Duration: 13 Nov 201415 Nov 2014


ConferenceCUI 2014 Contemporary Urban Issue Conference Informality


  • formality
  • informality
  • urban enclosures
  • urban commons
  • crisis
  • Greece


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