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Interrogating informal cultural practices in London and Mumbai: towards a multi-faceted understanding

Chouguley, U. (2019). Interrogating informal cultural practices in London and Mumbai: towards a multi-faceted understanding. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City, University of London)


Despite a recent revival in the research field, there remains a lack of nuanced discussion of urban informality, especially for cities in the global North. Moreover, existing studies (whatever their geographies) show a very limited engagement with issues of culture. The extant research is frequently focused on forms of economic value and thus fails to provide a multi-faceted valuation of informal cultural practices. My thesis sets out to address these gaps using a grounded theory approach. This methodology enables such a multi-faceted understanding, both theoretically and empirically, and it is developed through five case studies in two cities. These case studies include busking, book sharing initiatives and guerrilla gardening in London, as well as the open street event Equal Streets and ‘spot fix’ public space improvement practices in Mumbai.

The findings show that urban actors are motivated by a wide variety of factors, stretching from intrinsic, personal reasons to more instrumental, social or environmental agendas. The study further emphasises that informality can be a tool and tactical choice for urban actors, deployed by many to fulfil their varied aims and ambitions, but also in response to the complex negotiations of internal values and external, contextual factors (including their interaction with public authorities).

The thesis offers a robust challenge to the predominant economic-deterministic interpretations of culture in the urban context, and calls for a shift in the debate by academics and policy-makers alike towards a more multi-faceted valuation of informal cultural practices. Furthermore, this thesis goes beyond existing research on urban cultural informality in highlighting the tactical use of informal practices. Finally, by examining urban informality in the field of culture in both cities in the global South and the global North, this study contributes a rare exchange of empirical knowledge and theories in relation to data from such different geographies.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GT Manners and customs
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Departments: Doctoral Theses
School of Policy & Global Affairs > Sociology & Criminology
School of Policy & Global Affairs > School of Policy & Global Affairs Doctoral Theses
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