Research projects

Informality and Insecurity

Informality – which emerges when socio-political regulations developed and implemented by public policies are transgressed – is strongly related to processes of globalization. Against the uncertainties produced by the reassessment of the State’s authority, the informal generates both political insecurity and opportunity. Two categories define informal networks : 1) networks related to the illicit circulation of goods, information and people (e.g. drugs, corruption, clandestine immigrants, etc.) ; and 2) networks related to work, to daily life and to consumption (e.g. undeclared work, clandestine business, squats, shantytowns, etc.). These networks have their own norms and rules, and lie simultaneously at the margin and at the heart of State regulation ; hence the strong interdependence between the formal and the informal.


VESPA’s reflections on informality are made conjointly with the International Network for Comparative Research on Informality in Metropolitan Areas (RECIM), whose work pursues two objectives :


1. To strengthen interpersonal bonds between researchers in Canada, the United States and Mexico so as to develop a North-South comparative approach. The purpose is to be able to read our own work in light of the Other’s perspective – whether colleagues working in other cities, disciplines, institutions or cultures. This exercise is meant to identify, inductively, different understandings of informality and the way it is treated. However, rather than compare informality as an “object”, we compare the processes in which the objects are constituted as objects of knowledge. Comparison is not only an instrument to better understand informal networks ; it is also an activity that is spread through dialogue between researchers. By talking to each other about their respective research results, colleagues must explain the underlying value and premises of their work. This comparative approach is thus built on trusting interpersonal relationships.


2. To develop a better understanding of insecurity and informality in Canada, in the United States and in Mexico in order to develop better tools for public intervention. By comparing informality among the three countries, decision-makers can situate their policies within broader contexts. Indeed, informal networks in Canada are not defined the same way as in Mexico or in the United States. There are, of course, similarities (i.e. drug traffic) ; but what is considered problematic in Canada may not be in Mexico, and vice versa. Moreover, greater knowledge of the structures that frame public debates in the three countries opens up further possibilities to understanding the tendencies and interdependencies of informal networks.


This second objective is funded by the Quebec Metropolis Centre (QMC), in partnership with Public Safety Canada, for a project entitled “Informalité-Informality-Informalidad : Outlooks on the Challenges of Canada, United States and Mexico”. The objective of this project is to mobilize the knowledge upon which we can construct tools that serve as starting points for comparison. Based on the results already produced by researchers, a summary table and a glossary were created in order to address the specifics of each country : 1) What types of informalities exist ; 2) What is the literature on informality ; 3) What terms are used to describe informality and what normative weights are associated with these terms (the glossary will thus be useful both for translating the terms in the three languages, and most of all for reviewing the positive and negative connotations associated with them, such as the choice of vocabulary used by government programs, and the epistemological context of these terms in scientific research) ; and 4) How is informality treated by the media ?

VESPA in 360 News

04.2012 | 2009 | Ongoing Projects

Appréhensions et opportunités face à la mobilité des jeunes. Le cas montréalais

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04.2012 | Publications

Research report 2012

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04.2012 | Epistemological reflections

Presentation of VESPA. For an Epistemology of Urbanity

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