This ethnographic research project analyses the role of brokerage – the social mechanism of mediation between different groups or levels in society – in urban governance arrangements, citizen participation, and citizen initiatives, and its impact on the state-citizen relationship. Brokers, identified as citizens who officially ‘speak for’ and ‘act on behalf of’ their fellow citizens vis-à-vis the state, have become a persistent presence in democratic urban governance across the globe. Through their political representation and negotiations, brokers impact state-citizen relations and decision-making processes regarding the allocation of resources such as housing, welfare, infrastructure, security, and social care. As brokerage in governance always consists of both formal/official and informal/personal actions and transactions, this study investigates how brokers intertwine practices, discourses, and networks both inside and outside officially sanctioned channels and institutions. The project focuses on urban governance arrangements and citizen (grassroots) initiatives that seek to address the needs of residents of underprivileged neighbourhoods. These neighbourhoods are particularly relevant to this research as their low-income residents most directly experience changes in governance and its resource flows, be they direct or via brokers.

This project compares brokerage in four different cities, two in the Global North and two in the Global South. These cities are Rotterdam (the Netherlands), Manchester (UK), Medellin (Colombia) and Recife (Brazil). In these cities, we focus on specific types of brokers: community leaders, street-level bureaucrats, welfare advisers, activists, and active citizens; some develop their own grassroots initiatives, while others are invited by the authorities to act as representatives of other citizens.

Combining research from these divergent schools of thought, this project approaches brokers as ‘assemblers’, connective agents who actively bring together different government and citizen actors, institutions and resources, and who combine formal and informal politics. In so doing, this approach combines recent theories on assemblages – which view urban governance, citizen participation, and grassroots initiatives as an amalgam of different actors, institutions and resources that function together – with an anthropological actor orientation.

ANTHROBROKERS has been very successful in achieving its goals. By using an anthropological, actor-oriented approach to the study of brokerage, the project has contributed to a better understanding of the roles of brokers in urban governance, citizen participation, and different forms of grassroots initiatives. It has analysed how different types of brokers (community leaders, local activists, active citizens, and frontline workers such as street level bureaucrats and welfare advisers) bridge gaps between the state and the population through both formal and informal ways. These brokers play crucial roles in the functioning of urban governance, citizen participation, and grassroots initiatives. The project also demonstrated how, in the acts of brokerage, electoral politics often becomes part of governance arrangements, giving rise to debates about how democratic governance interacts with clientelism. The project's innovative approach which sees brokers as assemblers – as connective agents – in wider assemblages advanced our theories on the interplay between individual actors and wider structures of rule, authority and belonging, such as the state. The project has also advanced the North-South dialogue in anthropology, urban studies, and geography. It has contributed to this debate by making concepts, theories and bodies of literature that were limited to studies of either the Global North or the Global South available across this divide.

Take a look at the external project website for ANTHROBROKERS.


Articles 2022

van de Pas, N., de Kort, D., Koster, M & van Meijl, T. (2022) The Political Potential of Urban Informality in the Global North: A Rancièrian Perspective Journal of Developing Societies 38(2):224–243:

da Silva, S. & de Vries, P. (2022) The trajectory of the right to the city in Recife, Brazil: From belonging towards inclusion. Planning Theory. Online first:

Koster, M. & Eiró, F. (2022) Clientelism in Northeast Brazil: brokerage within and outside electoral times. Contemporary Social Science, 17(3):222-234:   

Moore, A., F. Eiró, & M. Koster (2022) Illegal housing in Medellín: Autoconstruction and the materiality of hope. Latin American Politics and Society

Articles 2021

da Silva, S. & de Vries, P. (2021). The ambivalence of slum politics in reactionary times in Recife, Brazil. Dialectical Anthropology, 45(4), 383–401. Full-text access to a view-only version: Doi:

Van der Veer, L. (2021) ‘Guessing Games with Target Groups: Securing a Livelihood by Supporting Refugees in a Hostile Environment’. In Intersections: East-European Journal of Society and Politics, as part of a special issue edited by S. Hess, A. De Lauri and C. Brkovic

Articles 2020

van der Veer, L. (2020) Residents’ responses to refugee reception: the cracks and continuities between care and control. Ethnic and Racial Studies (43)16: 368-387

van der Veer, L. (2020) Treacherous Elasticity, Callous Boundaries: Aspiring Volunteer Initiatives in the Field of Refugee Support in Rotterdam. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations.

Heederik, J. (2020) The Voluntarisation of Welfare in Manchester: A Blessing and a Burden. Focaal Blog, October 2, 2020

Moore, A. (2020) The human cost of city upgrading in ‘pro-poor’ Medellín. Focaal Blog, September 23, 2020

van der Veer, L. (2020) Group-making and distrust within the infrastructure of refugee support. Focaal Blog, August 3, 2020

da Silva, S. (2020) Special Zones, Slums, and High-rise buildings: Community leaders between “occupancy urbanism” of the poor and the powerful in Recife, Brazil. Focaal Blog, July 31, 2020

Acosta, R., Eiró, F., Koch, I., & Koster, M. (2020) Introduction: Urban struggles: governance, resistance, and solidarity. Focaal Blog, July 2, 2020

Derks, S., Koster, M. & Oosterbaan, M. (2020) Olympic Legacies. City & Society (32) 1: 184–202.

Koster, M. (2020) An ethnographic perspective on urban planning: Temporality, diversity and critical urban theory. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 44(2):185-199

Articles 2019

Koster, M. (2019) The state as a treacherous partner. Epilogue to special issue ‘Betrayal in the city: Urban development across the globe’. City & Society 31(3):436-440

Kolling, M. & M. Koster (2019) Introduction: Betrayal and Urban Development Across the Globe. City & Society 31(3):326-340

Eiró, F., & Koster, M. (2019). Facing bureaucratic uncertainty in the Bolsa Família Program: Clientelism beyond reciprocity and economic rationality. Focaal 85:84-96.

Eiró, F. (2019). The vicious cycle in the Bolsa Família Program’s implementation: discretionality and the challenge of social rights consolidation in Brazil. Qualitative Sociology 42(3): 385–409

Koster, M. (2019) Brokerage in participatief stedelijk bestuur. Rooilijn: Tijdschrift voor Wetenschap en Beleid in Ruimtelijke Ordening.

Koster, M. (2019) Assembling formal and informal urban governance: Political brokerage in Recife, Brazil. Anthropologica 61(1): 25-34

Koster, M. & A. Smart (2019) Performing in/formality beyond the dichotomy: An introduction. Anthropologica 61(1): 20-24

Jaffe, R. & M. Koster (2019) The myth of formality in the Global North: Informality-as-innovation in Dutch governance. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 43(3): 563-568

Wijntuin, P. & M. Koster (2019) Dutch-Moroccan girls navigating public space: Wandering as an everyday spatial practice. Space and Culture 22(3):280-293

Articles 2018

Eiró, F. (2018) On Bolsonaro: Brazilian democracy at risk. Focaal Blog, November 8, 2018

Koster, M. & Y.P.B. van Leynseele (2018) Brokers as assemblers: Studying development through the lens of brokerage. Ethnos 83(5): 803-813

Chalhi, S., M. Koster & J. Vermeulen (2018) Assembling the irreconcilable: youth workers, development policies and unruly young people in the Netherlands. Ethnos 83(5): 850-867

Nuijten, M., M. Koster, P. de Vries & A. C. C. Cabral (2018) Regimes de ordenação especial no Brasil: A fusão do neoliberalismo, populismo de esquerda e visões modernistas na urbanização de favelas no Recife. Cadernos CRH 31: 59-73

da Silva, S. & de Vries, P. (2018) Theorizing Slum Politics in Recife, Brazil: Community leaders symbolize the inconsistency of the urban situation. In: Cities and Citizenship in Contemporary Latin America and the Caribbean, Conference proceedings NALACS Conference 16‐17 June 2016, TU Delft

Lindoso, D.; Eiró F.; Bursztyn, M.; Rodrigues-Filho, S. and Nasuti, S. (2018) Harvesting Water for Living with Drought: Insights from the Brazilian Human Coexistence with Semi-Aridity Approach towards Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainability, 10, 622, pp. 1-17. doi:10.3390/su10030622

Articles 2017

Brandt C.O. and Eiró F. (2017) Qualitative corruption research methods. How to research corruption? Conference Proceedings: Interdisciplinary Corruption Research Forum, June 2016, pp. 34-43.

Eiró F. (2017). O Programa Bolsa Família e os pobres “não-merecedores”: poder discricionário e os limites da consolidação de direitos sociais. Boletim de Análise Político-Institucional, vol. 13. Brasília, Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (Ipea), pp. 65-70.

Articles 2016

Koster, M. (2016). Brokers in participatory urban governance: Assembling formal and informal politics. L’Espace Politique 29(2).

Koster, M. and Nuijten, M. (2016) Coproducing urban space: rethinking the formal/informal dichotomy. Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 37(3): 282-294

Books & book chapters

Koster, M. (2021) Political anthropology. In: Pedersen, L. & L. Cliggett (eds) The SAGE handbook of cultural anthropology. London: Sage, pp. 330-347

da Silva, S. & de Vries, P. (2020) The trajectory of the Right to the City: From belonging towards inclusion. In: Spire, A. & Morange, M (eds.) Vivre et construire le droit à la ville : expériences au Sud. La dimension politique des pratiques citadines. Presses Universitaires de Paris Nanterre. ISBN: 978-2-84016-357-2.

Eiró F. (2018) Anti-poverty Programs and Vote-Buying Strategies. In: Kubbe I., Engelbert A. (eds) Corruption and Norms: Why informal rules matter. London, Palgrave Macmillan

Koster, M., Jaffe, R.K. & Koning, A. de (2017) Citizenship Agendas in and beyond the Nation-State, Abingdon: Routledge

Rocco, R. & da Silva, S.  (eds.) (2018) Cities and Citizenship in Contemporary Latin America. Conference Proceedings, NALACS conference, 16-17 June, 2016, TU Delft

Special issues

Koster, M. & M. Kolling, eds. (2019) Betrayal in the city: Urban development across the globe. Special issue of City & Society 31(3)

Koster, M. & A. Smart, eds. (2019) Moving beyond the formal/informal dichotomy: Implications for governance. Special issue of Anthropologica 61(1)

Koster, M. & Y.P.B. van Leynseele, eds. (2018) Assembling development across the globe: ethnographies of brokerage. Special issue of Ethnos 83(5)

Nuijten, M. & M. Koster, eds. (2016) Close encounters: Ethnographies of the coproduction of space by the urban poor. Special issue of the Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 37(3)