In a world of persistent and growing informality of working and living conditions in cities, and increasing policy efforts to formalise the informal, why are some forms of informality criminalized while others enjoy sanction of the state?
This paper argues that analysis of the politics of policy implementation of formalisation efforts can provide rich insights into urban formal-informal relations in cities of the global south, to complement policymaking or policy impact analyses. We present an in-depth case study analysis of the contested implementation of a unique policy effort to formalise street vendors in Delhi, India. A public authority lens reveals the micro-political practices employed by non-state and state actors in bureaucratic, judicial, political, market and other arenas aiming to control urban space.
We argue that policy implementation outcomes are significantly shaped by ‘horizontal’ contestations within society and within the state, to complement and intermesh with ‘vertical’ state-society struggles. Moreover, contestants for public authority exploit official rules but also informal practices by the state, to engage and advance state fragmentation, enduringly shape cityscapes and to affect which forms of informality are condoned or condemned.