International Development Planning Review 41.1 Featured Article

The editors of International Development Planning Review have selected ‘Contesting socialist state visions for modern mobilities: informal motorbike taxi drivers’ struggles and strategies on Hanoi’s streets, Vietnam’ by Sarah Turner and  Ngô Thúy Hạnh as the Featured Article for IDPR 41.1.

The paper will be free to access for a limited time here.

When asked to describe the paper, and highlight its importance, Sarah Turner stated the following:

This paper came about because I had been working with street vendors in Hanoi, the capital city of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, for over a decade, and I was becoming increasingly concerned that restrictive and punitive measures being applied to these vendors by municipal officials, might be hampering the livelihoods of other informal economy workers who utilize the city’s streets as their workplace. Hanoi’s municipal authorities, with strong backing from the central government, are conceiving an urban space replete with security, orderliness, and modernity. This is resulting in rapid changes to the city’s urban form and access to infrastructure and amenities, while informal economy workers are being sidelined from official narratives of the city’s future.

And then came the city’s proposal to ban motorbikes by 2030. I immediately wondered how xe ôm drivers – informal motorbike taxi drivers – were going to cope. Moreover, I had witnessed the rapid rise in numbers of blue (UberMoto) and green (GrabBike) jacketed app-based drivers weaving through the city’s streets. My regular ‘traditional’ xe ôm driver, Hoà, often shook his head at these younger drivers’ inability to know where to go without their trusty GPS, and made rather disparaging comments about their lack of knowledge of the fastest routes…

Hence this project was born, with the aim of investigating the mobile livelihoods and everyday politics of xe ôm drivers in Hanoi. It would not have been possible without the help of Ngô Thúy Hạnh, my Hanoi-based research assistant and good friend, who goes out of her way to support my research endeavors, and those of my students, even when it means working long hours to complete our interviews alongside her regular job. Hạnh has a natural ability to put people at ease and gaining interviewees’ trust to learn about their livelihoods and concerns beyond the ‘public transcript’. Hạnh also actively introduces new questions and elements into our research endeavors. For example, she recently noticed that traditional xe ôm drivers are now buying green GrabBike jackets and helmets to mimic the new competitors. Moreover, now that GrabBike has bought out Uber and has little competition to keep prices in check, traditional xe ôm are gaining back customers. These customers are disgruntled at the price hikes GrabBike now places on evenings and weekends. As the ban inches closer, and the competition changes in nature, our research and rides continue…



International Development Planning Review 40.3 Featured Article

The editors of International Development Planning Review have selected ‘Comprehensive user insight to improve technologies for development’ by Annemarie Mink, Jan Carel Diehl and Prabhu Kandachar, as the Featured Article for the latest issue.

It will be free to access for a limited time here.

When asked to describe the paper, and highlight its importance, Prabhu Kandachar stated the following:

The most cited definition of Design is attributed to Herbert Simon, an American political scientist (1916-2001): “Everyone designs who devises courses of action aimed at changing existing situations into preferred ones.” Design is a multi-disciplinary activity requiring the knowledge domains of both natural sciences and humanities. During the design process, designers seek solutions for problems and challenges, which can be very simple to extremely complex ones. International Development falls into the last category with wicked and interrelated challenges, reaching new heights in the complexity ladder. Persistent challenges include poverty alleviation, income inequalities, climate change, provision of energy & safe drinking water for the poor and underserved, as listed in the Millennium- and Sustainable Development Goals.

A research and education activity at the School of Industrial Design Engineering (IDE) at Delft University of Technology was started in the 1980’s to explore whether the design domain could contribute to solutions in this direction. Many questions had to be faced: Is it possible to morph Design’s relevance to the growing aspiration of the world’s marginalized and disadvantaged population? How to improve the Quality of Life in every sphere of their: Living conditions, Food, Water, Energy, Health, Education, Governance, Mobility, among others? More than 100 projects embodying human centered innovations were executed at Delft involving students and business enterprises to identify opportunities as well as to design & prototype products and services for the target group. This part of the population in various developing countries around the world, with its low resource settings, provided opportunities to search for solutions for them.

Meanwhile, hundreds of new technologies, products and services have been thought of to help meet their needs and aspirations. Nevertheless, few have found their way into the hands of those that need them most. There is a real struggle when it comes to developing products that are accessible, affordable, acceptable and adaptable by their intended users. The Design for Development outcomes which are often unsuited to the users and their environment are based on poorly understood needs and preferences.

This experience led to the need for a fundamental exploration of bridging Design with Development at Delft by means of a research project. Is C. P. Snow’s (1905-1980) description of the mutual lack of sympathy and appreciation between the two cultures of science and the humanities a major hindrance? Product designers are trained to take the user perspective into account, but they are not specifically trained to conduct ethnographic research. Thereby, they have limited time and resources to explore the user context. A systemic approach that efficiently guides designers to develop a social needs inventory would therefore be valuable.

Amartya Sen’s capability approach seemed to have the potential to provide the required analytic guidance for guiding comprehensive user context research. He was of the opinion that it is not the goods or products that are ultimately important, but what they allow us to do and to be, the kind of lives they enable us to live. Giving everyone a laptop or some other piece of technology is no good by itself, according to Sen’s approach. Some people will be able to make good use of it and increase their level of functioning, but others who are illiterate, or do not have access to reliable power supply or are restricted to use the laptop, cannot possibly convert their possession of the technology into new opportunities in their lives. As Sen’s approach focuses on the richness of human lives rather than simply on the richness of economies, design outcomes with this framework can be expected to be much closer to improving the quality of life relating to people’s values, aspirations and well-being.

The research project at Delft focused on development of the Capability Driven Design (CDD) approach, supported by the analytic guidance derived from Sen’s ‘Capability Approach’ (CA). Practical guidance was derived from the domains of Human-Centered Design, Design for Development and Rapid Ethnography. From these domains, methods, techniques and tools were selected which are considered to fit designers’ behaviour and to enable them to rigorously explore people’s well-being in their own context. Financial support by the Dutch Science Council helped the research group at Delft to appoint 3 researchers (2 at Delft at The Netherlands and one at Bangalore, India) in this project.

This publication is based on the PhD thesis of one of these researchers. The outcomes are the result of desktop research in The Netherlands, extensive field research in India, expert consultations as well as iterative field-testing by eight teams executing actual design projects in various counties in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The result is a systemic approach that urges designers to move beyond the investigation of product–user interaction and supports them to rigorously explore their potential users’ context and their valued beings and doings. Designers are guided to take a comprehensive view of the well-being of their potential users leading to products and services with better accessibility, affordability, acceptance and adaptability.


International Development Planning Review 40.2 Featured Article

The editors of International Development Planning Review have selected ‘Spanning the spectrum: infrastructural experiences in South Africa’s state housing programme’ by Sarah Charlton, as the Featured Article for the latest issue.

It will be free to access for a limited time here.

When asked to describe the paper, and highlight its importance, the author stated the following:

In recent years policy discussions and scholarly debates have flagged a major issue in the housing landscape of developing countries: that of informal settlements and slums, and the in-situ upgrading of these. However in several parts of the world there has been at the same time another, highly significant low-income housing process underway: that of state funded and/or state provided new-built houses, delivered en masse. Important examples can be found in Chile, Mexico and South Africa. Because of their scale these formal housing developments have major impacts on the built form of urban areas, on capital budgets, on the operating or maintenance budgets of authorities tasked with managing new neighbourhoods, and also on political dynamics. A further enormous impact, of course, is on people’s lives – the lives of residents relocated to or newly living in these locations – and this is a relatively understudied area of investigation.

This article discusses South Africa’s mass housing programme, built for the poorest of the poor since the transition to democracy in 1994. It is dramatic both in terms of the sheer number of houses that have been delivered, but also because of the political potency of housing, land and ownership given the history of the country which barred urban rights for the majority of the population. The housing delivery has been both celebrated for its various achievements but also criticised for failing to fulfil some of its own objectives. In this article the discussion moves beyond either celebratory or condemnatory accounts to consider some of the detail of people’s interactions with the housing – what they do with their houses, how they make use of them, what role the houses play in their lives. Focusing on Johannesburg, interviews with housing beneficiaries reveal varied and complex interactions and the reasons for them. These practices include modifications and adjustments such as changing the physical form or some of the uses of the house, but beyond this, even at times to altering family configurations and social rhythms in relation to the housing.

The paper makes the argument that these sorts of bottom-up adaptions are necessary to make a flawed and spatially fixed housing intervention ‘work’ in people’s lives, given a particular context of joblessness, poverty, and sprawling, inefficient cities. Socio-economic conditions were not as anticipated at the advent of the housing programme, when living in a formal house and commuting to a formal job were the envisaged future. Instead, in the absence of jobs, informal forms of income generation have become endemic, and some people use the government-provided house for this purpose. Although some adaptions of the house, and of people’s practices, transgress regulations and appear to contest authority, they should not be seen as a defiance or rejection of the houses or the state’s perspectives on this, but as an important contribution to animating and making liveable this particular form of infrastructure. The argument here is that it is in the combination of state-provided housing infrastructure and people’s appropriation of it that the housing contribution needs to be assessed: in other words, not only does the infrastructure (by and large) help sustain lives as anticipated – through providing shelter, services and security – but people’s agency assists in making it function in more multi-faceted ways, which are necessary in less than ideal circumstances and thus thereby strengthening the credibility of the government’s infrastructure.

Journals, News

International Development Planning Review: Call for a Co-Editor

The International Development Planning Review (IDPR) invites applications for the position of Co-Editor.

International Development Planning Review is a peer-reviewed journal which provides an interdisciplinary platform for the critical study of development related practices, planning and policy in the global South.

Applications should be submitted to Clare Hooper, Head of Journals at Liverpool University Press ( as soon as possible and not later than 30 March 2018.

Potential applicants are welcome to contact the continuing co-editor Dan Hammett ( before submitting an application.

For more details, please see the Call for a new Co-Editor.


International Development Planning Review 39.1: Featured Article

The editors of IDPR have selected ‘The Ecology of Citizenship: understanding vulnerability in urban Brazil’ by Robert Coates and Jeff Garmany as the Featured Article for the latest issue. It will be free to access for three months. You can access the article here.

When asked to describe the paper, and highlight its importance, the authors stated the following:

Robert Coates:
‘The Ecology of Citizenship: understanding vulnerability in urban Brazil’ began life in Nova Friburgo, a mountainous city inland of Rio. Everyone I spoke with knew a victim of the floods and landslides in 2011, and with a long history of such hazards, most were resigned to an uncertain future. I felt that ‘citizenship’ was left wanting in this context: it lacked purchase on interactions with the decisive elements of water, soil, and risk management infrastructure.

The article developed in collaboration with Jeff Garmany, and writing it stretched both our understandings of urban citizenship. In most guises, of course, citizenship is ‘supposed’ to reduce vulnerability: authors point to links between urban space and political development, and not least the role of urban peripheries in rights claims and national inclusion. But in Nova Friburgo, Brazil’s recent investments in poverty reduction and urban land rights could not account for non-human nature. How could residents feel at once more included in the city and state, and yet describe such uncertainty and vulnerability when it came to the future?

One of the article’s most interesting interventions concerns the way that clientelist forms of political engagement interact with the materiality of floods, landslides, and technologies designed to deal with them. Urban spatial governance via ‘clientship’ is shown to work through and on politicised flows of water, mud, and infrastructure.

The article, then, is part of a broader project to explore a more-than-human geography of citizenship, in conversation with urban political ecology and science and technology studies. Marked by cycles of recognition of the nature of disaster, and appeals for citizenship equality, both urbanisation and vulnerability in this case (and beyond) have become entrenched. The article introduces some new themes, and there is more to debate going forward.

Jeff Garmany:
One of the most interesting things about this article is the way citizenship is critiqued from political ecology perspective. The questions raised in this article help to challenge a number of long-time assumptions, and there’s a real focus on materiality and ecological factors. This helps provide new insight for citizenship studies as well as pushing nature-society debates in a slightly new direction.