Processes of Everyday Resilience: The Reassembling of Informal Vending in Urban Spaces of Malang, Indonesia
Sarasmita, Adnya Punia
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This dissertation is part of the larger movement in urbanism scholarship to acknowledge the elements and processes of the ordinary that have been left out from the rational urban planning and policy discourses. Through following the actors and stories told by actors of informal street vending systems in the everyday urban spaces of Malang, Indonesia, this dissertation provides a detailed empirical study of informal street vending as a form of counter-hegemonic placemaking and a grounded conceptualization of the practices, struggles, and power relations in the resilience of its every day. Grounding the resilience approach on the processes of the everyday also offers a contextual and decentered view of power, through which this dissertation addresses the void in resilience scholarship with regards to issues of power. By examining these processes, I seek to understand how various street vending systems are able to constantly reassemble themselves into spatial-temporal patterns that produce relatively favorable outcome despite the unfavorable situations that are associated with the informality of their activities and presence in the everyday urban spaces. Three broad research questions emerge from my inquiries of the processes of everyday resilience as they apply to such social-spatial system in urban spaces: 1) How may an informal social-spatial system reassemble itself in response to challenges in its environment; 2) What role does power relations between actors of the everyday plan in the constant reassembling of the spaces of an informal social-spatial system; and 3) What effects do processes of the everyday reassembling of a contested social-spatial system have on its overall functioning. In an attempt to stay true to the core subject-centered value of the actor-network theory, the exploration of each case study site in this research begins with the vendors’ distinct individual stories. I did not begin with a set of themes, let alone hypothesis, in mind. Though not hypothesized, much less predicted, discernible behavior-spatial patterns did display themselves. While stories and observations of individual cases are plotted as data points, their complexity is generated as we follow the relationships that they have formed. Congruent with complexity theory, no exact repetition is found in the empirical research, as would be the case with the purely natural-material phenomenon. Rather, from the description of each event and the tracing of each relationship, enough themes emerge to form a composite picture of the vendors’ everyday practices and struggles, which informs the overall processes of the resilience of their everyday life. First, there exist identifiable spatial-temporal patterns even in urban spaces that appear visually messy and are perceived as spatially disruptive. These patterns emerge from the rhythmic reassembling of spaces of the everyday that is made possible by two fundamental qualities of such informal social-spatial system: the capacity for learning and adaptation, and the capacity for rules-creation. Second, power relations and the discretion of its exercise are an enabling factor for the creation and preservation of unwritten, oftentimes unspoken informal rules that underlie the capacity of an informal social-spatial system to continue to reassemble itself, and therefore is instrumental to the everyday resilience of the system. Third, the notion of system’s functioning can be used to frame the processes of everyday resilience by examining how the constant reassembling of a contested social-spatial system by way of persistence, adaptation, and transformation may impact its ability to perform its essential functions. In an attempt to take a step back from the solution-driven model that is the hallmark of modernist, rational planning, this dissertation is a step towards paying attention to the social construction of a social-spatial system that is often perceived to be an ‘urban problem’. As opposed to continuing the dominant narrative of urban governance which views informal street vending as one of the sources of urban inefficiency and lack of visual order, this dissertation suggests an approach to genuinely seeing informal street vending as a functioning system that is embedded in the city’s urban spaces, and whose participants contribute to the larger social-economic processes of the city. While an empirical exploration of one set of case studies cannot – and should not be relied on to – provide the knowledge required to form a broader policy on informal street vending, it does offer a few lessons that cities in other parts of Indonesia or Southeast Asia can take into account when getting to know their own informal urban systems.
- Built environment