This thesis explores the processes through which scarcity is constructed in informal settlements and
how conditions emerging within its limits gives way to particular socio-spatial phenomena and
influence the emergence of self-organisation and creative strategies from a non-expert perspective.
At the same time, this thesis deconstructs these emerging tactics (reactive and transformative) in a
diagrammatic way to generate a critical study of their potential for socio-spatial change that goes
beyond the everyday survival.
Most people associate scarcity with “not having enough” of something, most usually of a material
nature. In contrast, this paper is based on the premise that scarcity is a constructed condition,
therefore exploring it beyond its immediate manifestation and illustrating its discursive, distributive
and socio-material components. In this line, the research uses Assemblage Theory as both an
approach and a tool for analysis. This approach allows the research to depart from everyday
narratives of the residents, and gradually evolve into a multi-scalar, non-linear reading of scarcity, by
following leads into different realms and unpacking a series of routine events to uncover their
connections to wider processes and particular elements affecting the settlement and the city as a
For this purpose, the research is based on a qualitative, flexible and multi-sited methodology, using
different case studies as testing grounds. Collected data stems from a 11-months ethnographic
fieldwork in informal settlements in Ecuador and Kenya, analysing the socio-spatial practices and
strategies deployed by the different actors producing the built environment and arising from
everyday and latent experiences of scarcity. The thesis examines the multi-scalar nature of these
strategies, including self-building and management tactics, the mobilisation of grassroots
organisations, the innovative ways of collaborating deployed by different coalitions and the
reformulation of urban development policies.
As outcomes of the research, the thesis will show illustrative diagrams that allow a better
understanding of, firstly, the construction of scarcity in the built environment beyond its immediate
manifestation and secondly, the way that emerging tactics a) improve existing conditions of scarcity,
b) reinforce the status quo or c) contribute to the worsening of the original condition.
Therefore, this thesis aims to offer lessons with both practical and theoretical considerations, by
firstly, giving an insight into the complexity and transcalar nature of the construction of scarcity in
informal settlements; secondly, by illustrating how acute conditions related to scarcity gives birth to a
plethora of particular phenomena shaping the territory, social relationships and processes; and
thirdly, by identifying specific characteristics within the informal that might allow for new readings of
the city and possibilities for socio-spatial change under conditions of scarcity.