Binaries are a characteristic of western thought and capitalism. This way of thinking reproduces a hierarchical worldview with a privileging pole and unequal power relationships by making divisions between formal/informal sectors, public/private property, ordinary/global cities, and individual/collective ways of life.

To address this problematic, in this thesis I explain how formal and informal relationships are composed in the context of informal settlement upgrading practices in Phnom Penh with emphasis in three dimensions: a) land access, b) finance for housing, infrastructure and livelihoods, and c) political recognition. I use a case study of one informal settlement in Phnom Penh to evidence how the state is implicated in informality and how these relationships produce social and spatial inequalities. I also explain how formal and informal relationships are characterized by a negotiability of value of citizenship rights, were collective action plays a key role as a mechanism that vulnerable groups rely on to legitimize their claims and secure land, housing, infrastructure, livelihoods and political recognition.

I argue that market-led solutions to urban informality ingrained with binaries obscure collective action, support networks and sources of power that the urban poor use to negotiate value in the city and resist state and market-led dispossession. I argue for the need to open the space for collective action in planning, and shape social and spatial interventions able to incentivise and maintain collective action within vulnerable groups.

Funding: Research Training Program
Advisors: Dr Sonia RoitmanDr Peter Walters

Project members