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Elusive Boundaries of the Informal Housing Sector


Conceptualizing the urban economy in a dualistic framework generated debate since it was first introduced in the International Labor Organization (ILO) studies in the early 1970s (Moser 1978). The duality originally posed in these studies with reference to urban economic activities was later adopted in contexts as diverse as transportation and housing, gradually losing its differen­ tiating focus. Currently its use is quite ambiguous, and may even misguide public action unless its connotations are clarified at the· outset of policy formulation.

Historically, the 'informal' housing concept has been equated with self-built housing. Nonmonetary relationships in particular have been perceived as characterizing 'informal' housing production and transactions. In this paper, by highlighting the increased evidence of commercjalization of housing activi­ ties,2 I will illustrate the increasing ambiguity of the 'informal' housing con­ cept. If the empirical evidence shows that the distinction between formal and informal housing sectors is blurring, the justification for using these concepts to characterize housing activities would be untenable. This paper is an attempt to critically assess what we mean by the 'informal' housing sector, and to examine whether the distinction between formal and informal sectors as an analytical construct accurately depicts current housing activities in developing countries.

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