Why is it that so many of the people out there studying/analyzing/writing about new urban trends, new technologies, new social configurations, etc. are either well past or fast approaching midlife?
Watching academics (or worse: bureaucrats and business gurus) try to keep up with the frenetic pace of our present-day spatial, cultural, social, etc. milieus can be a sad sight. Pro Thinkers struggle like parents or marketeers or morning TV hosts to stay current and swank and therefore (allegedly) relevant.
They are quick to embrace buzz working concepts, and just as quick to dump them.
To make matters worse, even regular people like you or me have a hard time upholding concepts, just like we do keeping relationships, tastes, personal aims, political allegiances and attention spans. We consume our concepts like we consume our everydayness.
The problem is that a number of these concepts could actually be useful and significant. They are unfairly — even irresponsibly – deemed tired, passé, fizzle; superficially exhausted and then dumped.
One of the poor bastards in this bunch is the notion of "informality". After a brief, guilt-driven stint of Western academic and media focus on the subject, at the moment informality sounds as old and worn as French Theory. Something to roll your eyes over.
I don't want to redeem anything or anyone here. I just don't think ideas should be treated as disposable objects. Ideas always linger and creep back up when you least expect it.
It's only fair that we're tired of hearing the same stuff from the same people, over and over again. OK. But that doesn't mean that everything that needs to be said has been said.
Right now, more than anything else, I have some basic, intuitive, poorly-shaped questions. I guess they're mostly questions for myself (given my comment track record on this blog):
- Can anyone actually pin-point "informality"? Or is the notion simply elusive and any attempt at this futile?
- Is the concept itself inadequate? Particularly considering there isn't an actual divide between formal and informal, that they are both the same thing: reductive categories that try to organize and make sense of functional and active by-products of our (Modern, global) development schemes and efforts.
- Do we really have to keep opposing the "informal" to the Western-developed-organized-etc.-etc. or can we maybe start understanding it as a mirror modernization, as the crooked limb of Modernity or its bad twin?
- Instead of considering it an absence of logic, can we accept informality as a logic in itself, with controls and hierarchies and orders and struggles and changes and growths?
- If we want to emphasize the historical breach and inequality of modernizing processes, why not simply try to analyze and describe how unequal types of development are crashing up against each other and invading each other as a result of globalization, instead of making it an Us vs. Them thing? There is no Us vs. Them. We've all been smeared.
- Beyond aesthetics, isn't informality ugly (scary even) because it reveals too much about our dirty, insecure, two-faced Modern selves?
- How about picturing an enhanced version of the informal? One that isn't primitive or picturesque or exotic, or at least not in its entirety. One that is inextricably related to whatever happens elsewhere: interconnected, active (sometimes aggressive), efficient and significant in its own right. One that we need not pity or fix, but understand.
Would anyone like to take a shot?
(Photo by Pablo León de la Barra. José Rojas at House of Gaga in Mexico City. From the Centre for the Aesthetic Revoluction).