The development of informal social networks - a study of social support and urban development in Iztapalapa, Mexico City

  • Taru Silvonen

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    This thesis examines the role and transformation of informal social networks in the context of the formation and formalisation of a colonia popular – a self-built neighbourhood – in Mexico City. Local residents’ collaborations through informal social networks are investigated focusing on their contribution to processes of urbanisation and neighbourhood formation. The thesis approaches development from a critical perspective, engaging with the debates regarding the inadequate inclusion of local residents in urban development. Alternative understandings of ‘development’ are discussed, focusing on aspects of local collectivism, which resonate with the collaborative neighbourhood formation processes described in this thesis using a case study approach.

    The case study draws on ethnographic observation, semi-structured interviews and focus groups, which were carried out over a period of six months in a neighbourhood in Iztapalapa, Mexico City. Informal social networks are approached by detailing interactions and mechanisms of support between family, friends and neighbours. Collaborations between local residents indicate how informal social networks have played an active role in forming and transforming the neighbourhood. However, it is showed that the role of informal social networks has been diminishing. The collaborative community-oriented networks have become increasingly replaced by more personal networks as a basis for exchanges of social support. It is argued that this transformation is driven by broader changes in the neighbourhood, including the rise of more formal processes of urbanisation, growing perceptions of insecurity, as well as social and physical segregation. This thesis contributes to broader academic debates of urban development, social cohesion and neighbourhood networks by proposing an informal social networks approach to increase the understanding of local collaborative processes that have both social and physical outcomes.
    Date of AwardAug 2019
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorJoel Busher (Supervisor), Mateja Celestina (Supervisor) & Gordon Crawford (Supervisor)

    Cite this