Current Sociology

Sociologist of the Month, May 2024

Please welcome our Sociologist of the Month for May 2024, Lutfun Nahar Lata (now at The University of Melbourne, Australia). Her article for Current Sociology The production of counter-space: Informal labour, social networks and the production of urban space in Dhaka was shortlisted for the second edition (Vol. 71) of the Annual SAGE Current Sociology Best Paper Prize, and is now Open Access.

Lutfun Nahar Lata

Could you please tell us about yourself? How did you come to your field of study?

L.N. Lata: When I wrote this article, I was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Institute for Social Science Research (ISSR), University of Queensland. However, the data for this research came from my PhD research. My PhD research explored how the urban poor in Dhaka access public space for livelihoods through constant negotiation with formal and informal power brokers, incorporating a gender perspective. Now, I am a Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Melbourne. More recently, my research focuses on the gig economy and the challenges and opportunities gig workers experience in navigating the gig economy in the global north and global south.

What prompted you to research the area of your article, “The production of counter-space: Informal labour, social networks and the production of urban space in Dhaka”?

L.N. Lata: I have been conducting research with residents of informal settlements since my undergraduate days. I have always been interested in exploring the challenges they experience while navigating their livelihood options in a megacity like Dhaka. Also, while studying at the University of Dhaka, I observed how small tea shop owners had to pay mastans (musclemen) to continue their businesses in public spaces. My PhD research emerges from my curiosity to explore these practices.

What do you see as the key findings of your article?

L.N. Lata: My article demonstrates that the urban poor are able to break the planned order of the city, which Lefebvre termed as conceived space, and produce a ‘counter-space’, by using a range of strategies such as quiet appropriation of land utilising translocal migrant networks, using spatial mobility and making informal, mutually beneficial pacts with a range of local state and non-state actors working outside of their formal roles. The urban poor rely heavily on their kin and fictive kin and use their translocal networks in appropriating and reappropriating public space for livelihoods. This is an important finding because the urban poor of Dhaka do not only rely on their kinship networks; rather, similar practices are evident in other parts of the global south, where strong social networks and kinship play an important role in the livelihood practices of the urban poor. Although this practice is to some extent different from welfare states in the global north, who often provide safety nets for the marginalised groups, this is an important network for the urban poor in the global south as southern states do not provide much employment opportunities or other public services for them. Thus, the findings contribute to the sociological literature on mobility and social network as well as demonstrate the importance of adopting a translocal view in researching the livelihoods of the urban poor which can enhance our understanding on the complex rural–urban connections that comprise an important element of livelihood strategies for migrant households.

What are the wider social implications of your research in the current social climate? How do you think things will change in the future?

L.N. Lata: My research has made the government officials of Dhaka aware of the negative impact of evictions. I interviewed them and challenged their notions of a clean city. I asked them about their thoughts on poor people’s right to the city. I found many of them were very sympathetic to poor people. I have not heard many eviction stories since I completed my PhD research. Also, I came to know that the local councillor of Sattola slum – my case study slum – allocated some parts of the slum as a fish market. So, I think there is hope that poor people’s right to the city, including their right to access and use public places, will be acknowledged by various powerful actors of cities in the global south.

Do you have any links to images, documents or other pieces of research which build on or add to the article? Or a suggested reading list?

L.N. Lata: Here are some publications that are related to this article:

Lutfun Nahar Lata (2023) Spatial Justice, Contested Governance and Livelihood Challenges in Bangladesh. London: Routledge.
Lutfun Nahar Lata, Peter Walters and Sonia Roitman (2021) The politics of gendered space: social norms and purdah affecting female informal work in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Gender, Work & Organization, 28(1), 318-336.
Lutfun Nahar Lata (2020) To whom does the city belong? Obstacles to right to the city for the urban poor in Bangladesh. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 51(4), 1-22.
Lutfun Nahar Lata, Peter Walters and Sonia Roitman (2019) A marriage of convenience: street vendors' everyday accommodation of power in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Cities, 84, 143-150.

Lutfun Lata’s full publication list is available via webpage at the University of Melbourne: