For example, these interactions are reflected in multiple ethnographic studies of what constitutes the informal sector in urban centres in Africa. Such studies have been used to show how informality empowers the poor through microbusinesses, but also entrench the vulnerability of the poor through precarity. Also, researchers have been interested in informal relations in politics within the African continent, calling attention to corruption, nepotism, etc. However, there has been less interest on informal institutions or practices that explores informality as interaction, contestation and continuity. This panel seek to examine informality from the perspective of Helmke and Levitsky’s (2004, 727) definition that conceptualizes informal institutions as “Socially shared rules, usually unwritten, that are created, communicated, and enforced outside of officially sanctioned channels”. In this sense, we are interested in the examination of informality in its assumed negative and positive forms. For instance, we want to discuss how companies, NGOs, government agents, citizens and street-level agents negotiate nation-building, wellbeing, consumption or profit through informality. How do these and other actors utilize informality to shape social relations or socio-political space, produce desired outcome or challenge oppressive regulations. With these questions we want to tackle the central question; which way informality in Africa: To be recognized as a constructive concept and agency, or as destructive practices?
This central question is pertinent during this time of grave formal institutional reforms and transformations within the continent and globally. While several authors (Castells and Portes, 1989; Lomnitz, 1988; de Soto, 1989) argues that institutional reforms affects the informal sphere, for example, by notably shrinking or eradicating informal institutions (Thelen, 2004). The African case raises several questions (Bratton, 2007): As much as informality in institutions continue to dogged several regimes and attempts of institutional transformation in the political and economic sphere, there is the puzzle if formalization of institutions leads to decline in informality or mainly changes in informal tactics or agents. Lest we forget, some theories of institutionalism weakly view the effect of formalizing institutions on informality. Thus, this panel set the stage to explore informality within the context of institutions in Africa. Thus we seek to move beyond the discourse of ‘formalization or not’ as panacea to the issues of informality in Africa.
We are interested in related questions:
• How is informality constructed and negotiated by citizens and street level agents?
• How is informality constructed, negotiated/ legitimated within government and other agencies?
• How does informality impact on institutions and organizations? And vice versa.
• What are the benefits or not of informality? For citizens and other street level agents, organizations and political institutions.
We encourage submissions from early-career, female, and developing country (live in Africa) researchers. We welcome ethnographic papers, case studies and other empirical papers addressing these issues, but theoretical or conceptual papers are also encouraged. We invite interested researchers to submit an abstract of 250 words to ogmudio[at]gmail.com and vadetula[at]gmail.com by March 10th 2017. At the end of the sessions we hope to build a network of researchers working on informality in Africa.