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Panel 65. Exception, Law and Informality  


  • Jyoti Dalal, Professor, Institute of Home Economics, University of Delhi, India
  • Ruchira Das, Associate Professor, Institute of Home Economics, University of Delhi, India.
  • Chetan Anand, PhD Scholar, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) Mumbai, India.


Informality and its role in shaping our cities has long been recognised as a form of state of exception that far from creating any neat separation between formal and the informal rather produces different kinds of informalities that serves the ends of governmentality and the order-making function of the state. Literature has for long connected this to  law’s relationship to exception.  Law as has been seen and theorised has started to function through its constitutive exception which has brought to the centre zones where legal and illegal form a continuum. These zones of exception are made visible either in spatial aspects like informal housing, marginality etc. or  in the practices of the state like decrees issued by bureaucratic machinery, which are not simply the objects that state want under its control but rather are produced by the state itself as part of its order-making function.  This governance through exception is  not just happening through the techno-rational apparatus but also through codes of appearance that Asher Ghertner in his seminal work has called aesthetic governmentality. 

With this,  we see today  the intensification of the executive function of the state in  the governance of our cities. The executive directly becoming stronger is just one aspect of this phenomenon, the other being the collapse of the juridical and legislative in the executive. This becomes visible especially in the functioning of the  courts and how the whole legal apparatus has begun to serve  the ends of the executive (Bhan 2016), and the same can be seen with the new laws that legislature is passing. It is in this context we see that the content of law is splitting away from the force of law; thus making law functioning through its exception (Agamben 2005). Arbitrary decrees of any official representing the state can be seen to take the force of law even if the decree itself can be construed to be completely illegal. These arbitrary decrees can also come from citizens and bodies like RWAs’ and even they can take the force of law if they align themselves with the right rationality or aesthetic apparatus that serves the ends of the state like ‘world class city’.   

This panel aims to explore the myriad ways in which exception is coming to the fore in the governance of our cities. Some of the ways to  explore this can be through questions of informality, techno-rational behaviour of the state, aesthetics or law or any mixture of the above categories.  

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