The Myth of Informality: Housing Inequality and Urban Governance in China, India, and Brazil

Speaker: Yue Zhang
Venue: Hosted via Zoom
Date & Time:
2023-4-11 | 20:00-21:30 (Shanghai)
2023-4-11 | 7:00-8:30 (Chicago)
2023-4-11 | 8:00-9:30 (New York)
2023-4-11 | 16:00-17:30 (Abu Dhabi)

Urbanization is one of the most momentous global trends in the 21st century. While over 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities today, the number is expected to reach 70 percent by 2050. In the process of rapid urbanization, one third of the world’s urban dwellers live in informal settlements, the majority of them in cities of the Global South. Characterized by insecure tenure and substandard living conditions, these unplanned residential areas not only present major policy challenges but also defy our understanding of what constitutes a city. What explains the prevalence and persistence of informal settlements in the Global South, and how does the state respond to the “informal mode of urbanization”? In this lecture, Professor Yue Zhang addresses these issues by examining the production and governance of different types of informal settlements in China, India, and Brazil. Drawing on comparative historical analysis and extensive fieldwork in Guangzhou, Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, and São Paulo, the study reveals that informality is not residual; it is produced by the state. It also demonstrates how different models of urban governance affect state intervention in distinct ways and generate contrasting patterns of spatial and social transformation. The study has implications for understanding state building, governance, and citizenship in the Global South.

Yue Zhang is an Associate Professor of Political Science and Global Asian Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Co-Editor of Urban Affairs Review. Her research interests lie at the intersection of comparative and urban politics, with a focus on the political economy of development, urbanization and urban governance, transnational migration, and arts and cultural policy. Zhang is the author of The Fragmented Politics of Urban Preservation: Beijing, Chicago, and Paris (University of Minnesota Press 2013; Chinese translation 2018). Her other published work has appeared in The China Quarterly, Journal of Urban Affairs Review, Cities, and Land Use Policy, among others. She has received fellowships and awards from institutions including the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Andrew W. Mellow Foundation. She has conducted policy analysis for the World Bank, UNESCO, Asia Urbs, and other organizations on issues pertaining to metropolitan governance, the welfare of migrant workers, and cultural heritage preservation. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in Politics from Princeton University and her B.A. degree in International Relations from Peking University.

Introduction by Tansen Sen, Professor of History, Director of the Center for Global Asia, NYU Shanghai.



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