Emily K. Rains

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Patna, India

Dissertation project

Negotiating Informality, Negotiating Citizenship: How Neighborhood Characteristics Shape Political Behavior in Urban Slums

Nearly one-sixth of humanity live in urban “slums” — neighborhoods that lack access to secure property rights and basic services — and this number is increasing rapidly as developing countries continue to urbanize. Despite their proximity to public servants and public services, slum residents remain largely disconnected from formal institutions. On top of exclusion from government resources, slum residents are also subjected to threats of displacement and financial exploitation from a range of both state and non-state actors. To mitigate these vulnerabilities, residents draw on informal political strategies to negotiate with the state for material improvements. Yet, despite a shared context of poverty and informality, residents of different slums vary considerably in how they engage politically. What explains differences in political behavior across settlements? Drawing on in-depth interviews with over 100 Indian slum residents and leaders, I propose a framework to explain how neighborhood characteristics shape political strategies across slum settlements. I argue slums vary along two key dimensions — access to formal resources (including, for example, property rights and identification documents) and strength of informal political networks — that are crucial for understanding whether and how residents negotiate with the state. I test this framework with original survey data from nearly 10,000 households from over 200 neighborhoods from Bengaluru, Jaipur, and Patna, India. These data comprise some of the most comprehensive data on Indian slums currently available to researchers. The findings not only have important implications for understanding development outcomes, but also for understanding how the urban poor understand and exercise their rights as citizens.


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Peer-reviewed articles


[5] Precarious gains: social mobility and volatility in urban slums.

Emily Rains & Anirudh Krishna. (2020). Published in World Development.


[4] Negotiating Informality – Ambiguity, Intermediation, and a Patchwork of Outcomes in Slums of Bengaluru

Anirudh Krishna, Emily Rains & Erik Wibbels. (2020). Published in The Journal of Development Studies.


[3] Will urbanization raise social mobility in the South, replicating the economic history of the West?

Emily Rains & Anirudh Krishna. (2019). UNU-WIDER Working Paper Series 2019/102.


[2] Combining Satellite and Survey Data to Study Indian Slums: Evidence on the Range of Conditions and Implications for Urban Policy

Emily Rains, Anirudh Krishna & Erik Wibbels. (2018). Published in Environment and Urbanization.


[1] Rethinking barriers to electrification: Does government collection failure stunt public service provision?

Emily Rains & Ronald Abraham. (2018). Published in Energy Policy.



Book chapters


[1] Informalities, volatility, and precarious social mobility in urban slums

Emily Rains & Anirudh Krishna. Forthcoming in V. Iversen, A. Krishna, & K. Sen (Eds.), Social Mobility in Developing Countries: Concepts, Methods, and Determinants. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Email me for a draft.



Under review


[5] Women and (Informal) Work: Gender, Informal Labor, and the Civic Participation Gap in Urban Slums

Emily Rains. Submitted.


[4] Toward a Local View of Ethnic Polarization and Political Mobilization: Evidence from Urban India

Emily Rains & Jeremy Spater. Submitted.


[3] Living in Slums of Patna: Before, during and beyond the pandemic

Anirudh Krishna, Sujeet Kumar & Emily Rains. Forthcoming at the Journal of Asian Development Research.


[2] A Threat to Life and Livelihoods: Examining the Effects of Covid-19 on Health and Well-being in Bengaluru and Patna Slums

Harlan Downs-Tepper, Anirudh Krishna & Emily Rains. Forthcoming at Environment and Urbanization.


LiveMint article (Sep. 23, 2020). LiveMint article (Oct. 21, 2020). LiveMint article (Oct. 28, 2020).

[1] Informal Work, Risk and Clientelism: Evidence from 223 Slums Across India

Emily Rains & Erik Wibbels. Conditionally accepted at the British Journal of Political Science.


*If you cannot access an article, please email me and I will be happy to send you a copy.