Negotiating formalities: Everyday rule in Berlin's allotment gardens

Hilbrandt, Hanna (2015). Negotiating formalities: Everyday rule in Berlin's allotment gardens. PhD thesis The Open University.



Negotiating Formalities explores informal dwelling practices and their regulation in Berlin. In the literature on urban informality these themes are predominantly researched in Southern cities and have long been related to a lack of state capacity. As this assumption fails to account for the ways in which legal orders, administrative hierarchies or bureaucratic practices produce, enable or constrain informality, it impedes an analysis of the phenomenon in regulatory regimes that are presumed to rely on functioning bureaucracies. This thesis links literature on informality to an ethnographic understanding of states, to address this gap and think more precisely about the ways in which institutional and civil actors shape and contest order in everyday governance. This is what I call negotiating formalities.

This conception is based on an empirical study of the governance of informal dwelling prac- tices in Berlin's allotment gardens. Although a federal law prohibits the inhabiting of these sites, gardeners take up residence within allotment compounds, particularly over the summer. My analysis of this case challenges three assumptions about urban governance. First, Negotiating Formalities argues that order is carefully arranged between institutional and civil actors, rather than implemented from the top down. Second, it contends that formality cannot only be understood by reference to institutional imperatives, but needs to be related to the processes through which these actors shape, interpret or ignore regulations by enacting them on site. Third, this thesis asserts that the boundaries of transgressions are not only defined through written statutes or the rules of the state, but depend on the everyday engagement of all concerned. In sum, these contentions suggest that formality is the contested product of enduring negotiations. This conclusion not only challenges imaginaries of the state and informality but also bridges presumed divides between the functioning of states in the global North and South.

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