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From formal-informal to emergent formalisation: Fluidities in the production of urban waterscapes

Kajri Misra
Xavier Institute of Management (XIMB), Bhubaneswar, India; kajri@ximb.ac.in

ABSTRACT: Urban waterscapes are understood to be a tapestry of formality-informality, but this categorical scheme needs closer interrogation. Its conceptual integrity, theoretical relevance and empirical viability have been questioned in its application to other phenomena, such as the organisation of economic activity, labour, land and housing. Is its use in characterising systems of water provision any less marked by similar issues? Do alternative understandings of the formal-informal, such as in respect of the functioning of organisations, display greater conceptual strength and empirical fit? We address these questions, using the conceptual and theoretical challenges to the categorisation raised in the economic literature, and the realities of formal and informal water provision in two areas in Bhubaneswar, India. Significant limitations are revealed in the way the frame is currently used for organised systems of water supply in the urban South. Organisational-institutional understandings of the formal and informal, as elements that exist simultaneously in all organisations and interact to produce emergent formalisations, are found to be both conceptually stronger and a better fit with the observed realities. We therefore suggest using this alternative conceptualisation, for its descriptive power and greater theoretical and practical potential. Formality is then a dynamic condition that emerges from the interplay of the formal and informal in all kinds of organised systems for water provision in developing locations.

KEYWORDS: Formal-informal, water governance, institutions, India