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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 not only in the Global South but worldwide. 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. These theoretical approaches are finally applied to contemporary challenges and policy debates, such as global value chains, entrepreneurship, care, urban planning and waste, the pandemic and social policy responses, discussed in-depth during the second half of the semester.

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

Kanbur, R., 2017. ‘Informality: Causes, consequences and policy responses’, Review of Development Economics, 21(4): 939-961.

Chen, Martha and Françoise Carré (eds.). 2020. The Informal Economy Revisited: Examining the Past, Envisioning the Future. New York: Routledge (Part I)

Harriss-White, B., 2003. Inequality at Work in the Informal Economy: Key Issues and Illustrations. International Labour Review, 142(4), pp. 459–69.

Chen, Martha and Françoise Carré (eds.). 2020. The Informal Economy Revisited: Examining the Past, Envisioning the Future. New York: Routledge (Part II)

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).

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.

Hart, K., 1973. Informal Income Opportunities and Urban Employment in Ghana. The Journal of Modern African Studies, March, 11(1): 61–89.

Lewis, A., 1954. Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour. The Manchester School, 22(2): 139–191.

Eisenstadt, S. N., 1974. Studies of Modernization and Sociological Theory. History and Theory, October, 13(3), pp. 225–52.

Porter, A., & Schauffler, R., 2018. Competing Perspectives on the Latin American Informal Sector. Population and Development Review, 19(1): 33–60.

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.

Required readings:

Maloney, W. F. (2004). Informality revisited. World Development, 32(7): 1159–1178.

De Soto, H., 1989. The other path: the invisible revolution in the Third World. Basic Books (required chapters t.b.a.)

Bromley, R., 1990. A New Path to Development? The Significance and Impact of Hernando De Soto’s Ideas on Underdevelopment, Production, and Reproduction. Economic Geography, 66(4), pp. 328–48.

Fields, G. S., 2011. Labor Market Analysis for Developing Countries. Labour Economics, 18(S16–S22).

Breman, J., 1976. A Dualistic Labour System? A Critique of the ‘Informal Sector’ Concept: I The Informal Sector. Economic and Political Weekly, 27 November, 11(48), pp. 1870–6.

Li, T. M., 2010. To Make Live or Let Die? Rural Dispossession and the Protection of Surplus Populations. Antipode, 41, pp. 66–93.

Moser, C. O. N., 1978. Informal Sector or Petty Commodity Production: Dualism or Dependence in Urban Development? World Development, 6(9/10), pp. 1041–64.


Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory.


  • 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.