[COMM-ORG] query: Urban Informality and Social Welfare
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Wed Mar 17 09:06:08 CDT 2010
[ed: you may have community organizing examples that address Robert and
Michael's query. If so, please feel welcomed to copy COMM-ORG.
Otherwise, please reply to Robert at the address below.]
From: ROBERT P FAIRBANKS II <rpf at uchicago.edu>
The purpose of this email is to solicit historical and contemporary
examples of informal welfare provision in the United States,
particularly in urban contexts. We are embarking on a new project –
still very much in the early stages of planning – that seeks to map the
architecture of the informal welfare state broadly and systematically.
Our use of the term informal welfare state denotes a myriad of
nongovernmental strategies for meeting the needs of marginal populations
in a time of fiscal austerity and government devolution. The activities
of the informal welfare state may take the form of services, networks,
or credit. By definition, none of these mechanisms are public
institutions in the sense that they are owned by governments and
administered by government-appointed officials. However, these
configurations vary in their sources of funding and in the regulations
to which they are subject. Indeed the components of informal welfare
states vary along a number of dimensions: relationship to the state,
administration, structure, purpose, and transaction medium.
We are particularly interested in informal poverty survival mechanisms
working on the margins of, and yet in concert with, the formal social
service system. How is the simultaneous need to service marginal
populations and to exert social control met in informal ways? How are
self-help movements moving to organize or appropriate segments of the
formal social service sector? How are informal practices being courted
or harnessed by the state in the era of welfare reform?
Our formative interests in this topic have been sparked by Fairbanks’
recent book How it Works: Recovering Citizens in Post-Welfare
Philadelphia. This book focuses on one particular example of the
informal welfare state. Street level entrepreneurs in the neighborhood
of Kensington have reconfigured hundreds of former working class row
homes to produce the Philadelphia recovery house movement, an
extra-legal poverty survival strategy for addicts and alcoholics located
in the city’s poorest and most heavily blighted zones. This example
highlights the neglect of informal provision in conventional accounts of
welfare state programs and architecture. We hope you can help us
identify other examples, in both the present and past, that will help
facilitate a more systematic understanding of this elusive yet crucial
sector of urban political economy.
Please send replies to rpf at uchicago.edu or mkatzpa at gmail.com.
Robert and Michael
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