Rethinking Urban Informality

A thriving informal economy, which comprises most criminal, illegal, unregulated, or nonmonetary market exchanges and activities, exists in all countries, both developing and developed. In some places, informal work contributes upwards of 80% of GDP, and according to UN estimates, about one-third of the urban population in developing countries—nearly one billion people—lives in informal residential communities (slums). However, the phenomenon of informality more generally, and slum dwelling as one of its more apparent manifestations, remains relatively understudied in political science. My presentation therefore considers the question of what factors shape government policy towards the informal sector and drive cycles of toleration and repression. I also describe how the intervention of non-governmental organizations (NGOs)—and especially, faith-based efforts—can help to empower the zabbaleen (informal trash collector) communities in Cairo, Egypt.

I am a Ph.D. student in Political Science at Stanford University, and I have spent a lot of time studying the political economy of development. An aspiring scholar of North African politics, my current research focuses on questions of government policy towards the informal sector in developing countries.

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