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Informality, Exclusion and (Adverse) Inclusion: Foundations and Key Concepts


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA International Relations.


The growth of statistics on the informal economy has shed light on how sizeable it is and how significant informal workers' contributions are to the formal economy. Yet, the informal economy continues to be stigmatised as illegal, underground, or grey market. There is also an increasingly more visible problem of precarity among formal workers. Low levels of labour regulation result in other forms of social regulation taking prominence, e.g., social exclusion, discrimination, or marginalisation.
What drives informality? This elective supports the students in making sense of the apparent contradictions in the conceptualisation of informality by approaching processes of exclusion and inclusion into paid employment as multivalent, complex, and simultaneous. The course challenges stigmatised views and introduces students to various accounts of informality, presented under a plurality of perspectives, e.g., dualist, structuralist, and neoclassical. It considers the relative importance of modernisation, structural transformation, labour productivity, industrial policy, economic liberalisation, global supply chains, human capital, and social structures in explaining informality and precarity.
This course is divided into four main blocks corresponding to different theoretical approaches and ways of thinking about informality as processes of inclusion and exclusion of populations into paid employment. The first block discusses a dualistic period in which modernisation theories dominated the labour question. The second block zooms into industrialisation debates in which efforts were made to increase labour productivity but led to the bifurcation of the labour market in many late-industrialised countries. The third block discusses the structural adjustment period in which informality expanded and became politically visible to the state and increasingly theorised as voluntaristic, as per neoclassical perspectives. The fourth and last block introduces more recent structuralist accounts that understand informality as directly and structurally connected to the formal economy, expanding in new places and under new guises.

Course objectives

  • Explore a broad range of conceptualisations of informality and potential policies.

  • Engage with exclusion and adverse inclusion as central experiences in the organisation of informal employment today.

  • Gain a firm understanding of the critical challenges of informality across different geographies.

  • Develop a healthy scepticism about partial approaches to informality: recognising its multifaceted facets.

  • Build and apply critical thinking skills.

  • Increase the students’ skills for nuanced and persuasive writing.


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


Oral presentation(s) 10%
Assignment 1: research problem (3,000 words) 30%
Assignment 2: full research paper (5,000 words) 60%


To complete the final mark, please take notice of the following: the final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average


Students can resit the assignments 1 and assignments 2 if the weighted average is unsatisfactory.

Reading list

Banks, N., Lombard, M., & Mitlin, D. (2020). Urban Informality as a Site of Critical Analysis. Journal of Development Studies, 56(2): 223–238.
Chen, M. A. (2007) ‘Rethinking the informal economy: Linkages with the formal economy and the formal regulatory environment’, DESA Working Paper 46, July: ST/ESA/2007/DWP/46.
De Soto, H. (1989). The other path: the invisible revolution in the Third World. Basic Books.
Furtado, C., 1965. Development and Stagnation in Latin America: A Structuralist Approach. Studies in Comparative International Development, 1(11): 159–75.
Furtado, C., 1973. The Brazilian “Model”, Social and Economic Studies March: 122-31.
Harriss-White, B., 2002. India Working: Essays on Society and Economy. Cam- bridge: Cambridge University Press.
Harriss-White, B. (2010). Work and Wellbeing in Informal Economies: The Regulative Roles of Institutions of Identity and the State. World Development, 38(2): 170–183.
Harriss-White, B. (2020). Waste, Social Order, and Physical Disorder in Small-Town India. Journal of Development Studies, 56(2): 239–258.
Hart, K., 1973. Informal Income Opportunities and Urban Employment in Ghana. The Journal of Modern African Studies, March, 11(1): 61–89.
Kanbur, R. (2017) ‘Informality: Causes, consequences and policy responses’, Review of Development Economics, 21(4): 939-961.
Lewis, A. (1954). Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour. The Manchester School, 22(2): 139–191.
Mann, L. and Meagher, K. (2017) ‘Connectivity at the Bottom of the Pyramid: ICT4D and Informal Economic Inclusion in Africa’, Connectivity at the BoP Forum, Bellagio Centre White Paper, (December): 9-10.
Maloney, W. F. (2004). Informality revisited. World Development, 32(7): 1159–1178.
Phillips, N. (2011). Informality, global production networks and the dynamics of “adverse incorporation.” Global Networks, 11(3): 380–397.
Porter, A., & Schauffler, R. (2018). Competing Perspectives on the Latin American Informal Sector. Population and Development Review, 19(1): 33–60.
Scott, J. C. (1998) Seeing Like a State How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Staab, S. (2020) ‘Social protection for women informal workers’, The Informal Economy Revisited: 215-220.
du Toit, A. (2012) ‘Forgotten by the Highway: Globalisation, Adverse Incorporation and Chronic Poverty in a Commercial Farming District of South Africa’, SSRN Electronic Journal, (4).
du Toit, A. and Neves, D. (2014) ‘The government of poverty and the arts of survival: mobile and recombinant strategies at the margins of the South African economy’, Journal of Peasant Studies, 41(5): 833-853.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga


Not applicable.