What makes an infrastructure informal?

Public transport, neoliberal regulation, and agency in African cities, 13 May 2019

In the next session of our lecture series on the topic of infrastructure we are looking forward to welcoming Robert Heinze, Visiting Researcher at SOAS London. Time and venue: 13 May, 5:00-7:00 pm, lecture hall 4, auditorium building, Universitätsstrasse 3. Please see here the abstract of the lecture:

Matatu, taxi-bus, daladala, trotro,... modes of urban transport in Africa are as diverse as the names they use. But all are usually subsumed under the idea of "informal transport", emphasising the instability and deregulation of the industry. Looking at their history in more detail questions this assumption, because it shows that many actors – including the state – were involved in efforts and regulating transport infrastructure. It is how they are regulated rather than the absence of regulation that defines what is an essential infrastructure for African cities, both economically and as a public service.

Taking its cue from two ongoing discussions in African history, one about the relevance of the concept of "informality" and one about the need for historical approaches to urban infrastructure for our understanding of African cities, the lecture will explore the different concepts of informality related to urban infrastructure, develop a critique of these concepts, and show the need for a new perspective on the ways everyday infrastructure networks are organised in African cities through the example of "informal" transport.


Annette Veit
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Ursula Rao
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Institut für Ethnologie
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