informality, precarity, spontaneity

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informality, precarity, spontaneity


An urban condition of spontaneous growth, unincorporated into the spatial, economic, and financial systems of a governing municipality. A territory of highly productive and diversified economic activities that replace taxable and regulated forms of economy with those of flexible and negotiated agreements.

Spatial Informality: The organization of small resident-built structures around social contacts, friends, family, and the provision of a particular service such as selling foodstuffs, street food vendors, tailors, mobile phone kiosks, printing, or offering expertise in mechanical repair or construction. As one service comes on line, other related or support services will grow, building up a network of immediate need-based economic networks that are directly tied to social connections and familial relationships. Residents typically own their own home/business structure, yet lack any legal claim to property that can be used against a governmental entity, and subsequently lack the right to perform physical actions on that property.

Economic Informality: Participating in buying, selling, and trading of goods or services outside of governmentally structured tax regimes.


Pecquet, Gary. “Private Property andGovernment Under the Constitution”

The Freeman,

Guha-Khasnobis, B., R. Kanbur, & E. Ostrom, eds. Linking the Formal and Informal Economy: concepts and policies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.


The term Precarity has gained a trendy political currency by a certain portion of the American Urban Amish, a subset of city dwellers who make their own yogurt but have a hard time selling their bespoke moustache shaped oven mitts at places like the Brooklyn Flea Market.  These self-proclaimed Precariot, those who identify as the proletariat suffering from financial instability and economic vulnerability of their state of precarity, blame the neoliberal political machine for its failure to provide things like a more extensive national dental program to cover root canals, or more widespread and favorable rent control program for their bed-sty brownstones…  #firstworldproblems

Possibly unbeknownst to this subset of overeducated, underemployed and highly entitled urban dwellers is a particularly romanticizing and nostalgic depiction of a bygone era of supposed economic security in Fordist corporate America implicit in this “critique.”  This lack of a critical awareness threatens to depreciate the term’s political punch into an empty buzzword for the not-so-poor-off.   Judith Butler draws a distinction between “a more or less existential conception of ‘precariousness’” and a “more specifically political notion of “precarity,” in the introduction to “Frames of War,” published in 2009.   While this distinction seems provocative in reference to the notorious Afghan child photographed without her face covered, in reference to the dumpster-diving freegan blogging about his latest finds, the term runs dangerously close to collapsing into another tagline on the notorious


Butler, Judith. “Precarious Life, Grievable Life.” Introduction to Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable?, 1-32. London: Verso, 2009.

Horning, Rob. “Precarity and “affective Resistance”.” Marginal Utility. February 14, 2012.

McCurry, Steve. Afghan Girl Portrait. The National Geographic


The condition resulting from non-rational decision-making, often involving illicit or illegal activity. Spontaneity is a potentially self-effacing term that can simultaneously describe much of the urban poor’s spatial operations as impromptu, as well authoritarian policing practices bereft of moral regard. Spontaneity is characterized by the immediacy of emotional response, whimsy and/or lack of premeditated action. Spontaneity works both as a creative and destructive condition on physical actions and spatial exploitations.

The term has been coopted to describe a particular genre of architectural installation practice, which begins to challenge the temporal, durational limitations of the work. Possibly aligning itself with a certain populist, radical revolutionary ideal, which defies the traditional, rational, and ordered Marxist revolution, Spontaneous Interventions carry revolutionary weight by claiming to act in somebody’s particularly defined Public Interest. While the actual spontaneity of any of these interventions might be suspect, they typically seek some spatial method to highlight governmental, corporate, or social wrong-doing, in the name of anti-capitalist critiques for the good of the Common Man.

References: accessed Sep. 15, 2013.

Campbell-Dollaghan, Kelsey. “Michigan’s Mirrored Memorial To The Foreclosure Crisis.” Gizmodo Australia. September 12, 2013. Accessed September 16, 2013.


-Allen Gillers and Paul McBride