EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P009)
Emerging economic futures: the intersections of informality and formality [Anthropology of Economy Network]
Location U6-3
Date and Start Time 22 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2

Convenors

  • Alan Smart (University of Calgary) email
  • Filippo Zerilli (University of Cagliari) email

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Short Abstract

Informality/formality are a duality necessarily bound up with each other. We look at diverse forms of intersections between them.

Long Abstract

The dualism of the informal/formal sector distinction has recently been replaced with a recognition that informality/formality are a duality necessarily bound up with each other. This recognition is one of the key legacies of Keith Hart's original work, which was subsequently neglected as the ideas were made workable for economic management. Bringing informal and formal together is increasingly common in both academic analysis and development policy, the latter particularly as policies encouraging the formalization of informality. This panel will broaden the terms of this engagement, by including papers that look at a range of different kinds of intersection between the formal and the informal. Governmental formalization is only one way in which informality can be formalized; corporations can also formalize informal sector operators, by bringing them into their corporate governance as subcontractors or salespeople; within supra-national institutions formality and informality are negotiated and enforced in the form of non-legally binding (soft law) tools such as treaties and conventions; NGOs,grassroots movements and civic associations often struggle to see their practices formalized and legally recognized. This panel will examine a range of the various ways in which formality and informality intersect and interact: subordination, toleration, regularization, eradication, exploitation and subversion, to mention only a few of the possible scenarios and processes. The trajectories taken by these intersections of formality and informality will have a great influence on the economic futures that emerge in a less Euro-centric global economy.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

From piracy to the original: the regularisation of retail of Ecuadorian cinema

Author: Jose Carlos G Aguiar (University of Leiden)  email

Short Abstract

This paper looks into the regulation of retail of Ecuadorian cinema and the conversion of 'piracy' vending into original copies of movies in Quito and Guayaquil.

Long Abstract

Since the late 20th century the political economy of neoliberal capitalism has propagated criminalising discourses and policies to counter the copying and free circulation of cultural contents. The so-called 'piracy', that is, the unauthorised reproduction of cultural commodities, is defined as a serious criminal activity organised by international mafias. Opposed to these perceptions of global mafias and crime, there are countless men and women who earn an income with the retail of 'pirated' music, films and designs in street economies and marketplaces.

Ecuador is perhaps the first country that has developed an alternative to the dominant discourses on piracy. Since 2010, the associations of sellers of pirated goods have sought a dialogue with the national government of Rafael Correa in order to 'formalise' they trade activities. With success, these associations and the National Institute for Intellectual Property of Ecuador, have developed a programme to convert the trade in pirated DVDs into original films. Under this scheme, the profits are equality shared among the seller, the movie producer and the government. This paper presents ethnographic material collected in Quito and Guayaquil to explore alternative views on copyrights, and better understand the notions of morality, honor and legality in the context of informal trade.

Strategies to formalize land ownership in the Bamako, Mali metropolitan region: comparing the centre and peripheries

Author: Dolores Koenig (American University)  email

Short Abstract

How informal ownership is formalized varies in central and peripheral Bamako, Mali. In the central city, formalization is introduced through roads and infrastructure; long-term residents risk loss. On the periphery, the creation of building lots, the first sign of formalization, displaces farmers.

Long Abstract

Central Bamako contains pockets of unregularized, informal property in so-called "spontaneous" neighborhoods, but the largest areas of informal property ownership are on the urban periphery outside formal city limits. Proprietors in both areas desire some benefits of formalized ownership, but they have different perspectives. Based on short-term fieldwork in 2009 and long-term knowledge of the Bamako real estate market, this paper compares existing ownership patterns and the effects of formalization. In both areas, land control is said to be under "customary" control of chiefs, but this unified terminology obscures significant differences. In central areas, customary ownership can be traced back to the owner-chiefs of the 1800s present when the French colonial government arrived; effective control was passed from them to 20th century migrants, who now claim customary authority. Most of these neighborhoods have been densely urban for 30-40 years. In contrast, village chiefs on the periphery govern rural and semi-urban villages, which have become progressively urbanized as the city has grown; most residents were farmers until recently. In central areas, neighborhood formalization takes place through creation of road and water networks and, secondarily, formally titled plots; it risks displacing long-term urban residents. In contrast, settlement on the periphery takes place first through the demarcation of plots that mimic urban lots, and the displaced are primarily long-time rural residents. In central neighborhoods, residents want the infrastructure brought by formalization, but the allocation of titled plots is politically fraught. In peripheral areas, urbanites wanting land push out long-time farmers.

Transnational Maya textile traders at the interstices of formal-informal economy sectors in Guatemala and Mexico

Author: Walter Little (University at Albany, SUNY)  email

Short Abstract

Maya textile traders traverse formal and informal economic boundaries as they also cross international boundaries. I explain how these traders conduct business on both sides of this formal-informal divide, as well as describe why they aim to keep the informal from being completely formalized.

Long Abstract

Guatemalan Maya textile traders traverse formal and informal economic boundaries as they also cross international boundaries. In this presentation, I explain how these traders conduct business on both sides of this formal-informal divide, as well as describe why they keep the informal from being completely formalized. My discussion of the substantial practices of these traders, as they move between Guatemalan production sites and Mexican urban retail centers, is analyzed through a multi-theoretical framework that articulates Lefebvre's (1996) and Harvey's (2008) positions on rights to cities with Latour's (2005) concept of assemblage in order to think about livelihood practices in urban public spaces. Because these traders cross international boundaries to sell, I apply Roy's (2009) politics of inclusion perspective with Yiftachel's (2009) gray spaces to problematize the spaces -- political and economic -- where they conduct business to illustrate how their commercial practices challenge the formal-informal economic framework. I conclude that, as they conduct business in two countries and work to improve their economic position, Maya traders aim to occupy a flexible in-between space of "extralegality" (Smart and Zerilli 2014). This highlights forms legal and spatial permissiveness (Little 2014) that suggest such flexibility and mobility call for new ways to conceptualize transnational trade as creatively practiced by vendors such as these.

From market to market: (re)situating "informality" and "extralegality" in the retail vegetable trade, Baguio, Philippines

Author: B. Lynne Milgram (OCAD University)  email

Short Abstract

In Baguio, Philippines the city’s market privatization plan means that public marketers, supermarkets and officials are each complicit in variably operationalizing informality and extralegality as interdependent urban organizing logics to preserve power and control in their respective enterprises.

Long Abstract

Global South governments have responded to urban growth by embracing a development agenda favoring "modern" constructions (supermarkets) while discouraging what they view as "informal" remnants of trade (marketplaces). In Baguio, Philippines this top-down approach, rather than causing vendors to lose out to new market players, means that public marketers, supermarkets, and city officials each preserve their respective interests by fashioning shifting pastiches of practice that materialize urban spheres of "formal/informal" and "legal/illegal" permissiveness.

Using Baguio City Public Market's vegetable trade, I argue that marketers combine mainstream "advocacy" and informal "everyday" politics (Kerkvliet 2009) to protest the city's market privatization initiative. While awaiting decisions on their lawsuits, merchants extend product displays into market aisles and consign goods (wholesaler/retailer) to ambulant vendors creating "grey spaces" of formal/informal and "extralegal" practice (Smart & Zerilli 2014). Frustrated that marketers' court actions have successfully delayed municipal policies, officials have formalized and legalized marketers' infractions by charging rent for their encroachments. Such actions highlight government's complicity in using informality and extralegality as urban organizing logics when these strategies are to their advantage. Simultaneously, marketers informalize commodity transactions by wrapping sales in personalized gestures (sampling) such that consumers co-create an "experience economy" of shopping (Pine and Gilmore 1998). Supermarkets, meanwhile, replicate marketers' "informal" practices by mounting specialty displays in their aisles to capture the public market's chaotic vibrancy. Across class sectors then, Baguio's market players operationalize "informality" and "extralegality" as interdependent strategies to materialize porous spheres that can consolidate power and control more on their own terms.

The colors of money: everyday arbitrage and the expectation of loss in Argentina

Author: Sarah Muir (Barnard College, Columbia University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper examines the paradoxical relationship between formal and informal currency markets in a context characterized by limited access to foreign capital.

Long Abstract

Between 2011 and 2015, Argentine public life played out in large part through the dólar blue, an illegal but highly visible market for U.S. dollars. This paper examines the discourses and practices that made up dólar blue in order to sketch the folk theories of monetary value that animated it. In particular, I draw out the antinomy between state and market theories of monetary value and the everyday practices of arbitrage that antinomy made possible. I show that these practices of arbitrage articulated formal and informal currency markets with one another such that various monetary functions were priced and performed differentially. This distribution of monetary functions produced a paradoxical financial system, capable of forestalling outright economic crisis, but only at the cost of its own popular legitimacy. Situating this dynamic within the longer term history of Argentine currency regimes and the contemporary reality of the U.S. dollar as a global reserve currency, I argue that the particular case of dólar blue highlights a more general dialectic between formality and informality.

Sentiment, solidarity, and trade marketing: intersections of informality and formality at urban marketplaces in Bolivia

Author: Juliane Müller (Ludwig-Maximilian-University Munich)  email

Short Abstract

This paper looks at two intersections of informality and formality at urban marketplaces in Bolivia: the performance of emotion and affect between traders, merchants and global brands, and economic formalization of popular business through the adoption of corporate practices.

Long Abstract

A plurality of non-state actors are involved in the distribution of consumer electronics to the Bolivian market: East Asian Multinational Corporations (MNCs), international re-sellers, migrant entrepreneurs, and Bolivian popular traders. MNCs acknowledge undeclared goods, and closely interact and cooperate with traders in situations of "semiformality" (Cross 1998); the traders achieve new legitimacy through business with Samsung and alike. They become subjects of corporate "chain management" and trade marketing, yet, global brands also need to adapt to local ways of doing business. They get involved in "commercial circuits" (Zelizer 2011) in which solidarity and sentiment prevail amid competition and rationality.

My presentation will explore the intersections of informality and formality as related to two emerging phenomena: first, the performance of emotion and affect between economic actors of different scale, social and national background that turn commodity chains into commercial circuits, second, the "economic" formalization of popular business through the adoption of novel devices and the imitation of official business standards. I argue that both processes, corporate engagement with the messy world of intimate social relations and the rise of semiformal, "upscaled" traders and merchants, are key aspect of our economic futures in a less Euro-centric, yet no less entrepreneurial global economy. The analysis is based on fieldwork at two wholesale and retail marketplaces in La Paz (Bolivia), and the free trade zone of the Pacific port city Iquique (Chile).

Liquid fakery: African traders, counterfeits and rhetorics in Rome

Author: Cristiana Panella (Royal Museum for Central Africa)  email

Short Abstract

This paper focuses on the social organization of the counterfeits trade driven by Senegalese migrants in Rome. It engages new analysis on materiality by proposing the ‘communicating-vessels’ system as a methodological approach for analyzing interaction between objects, individuals and representations.

Long Abstract

This paper focuses on the social organization of informal and illegal networks of the counterfeits trade driven by Senegalese migrants set in a working-class neighborhood in Rome. Based on in-depth ethnographic evidence, it engages new analysis on materiality by proposing the 'communicating-vessels' system (C-VS) as a methodological approach for analyzing circulation and interaction between objects, individuals and representations.

As being a cross-cutting tool, C-VS unveils interfaces between official and informal/illegal economies through market trajectories showing the extent to which (1) the diversification of the markets is a feature of informal/illegal trades (2) the informal/illegal practices which underlie the diverse trades are not 'deviant' entities but structural tools for producing official norms of legality, authenticity and properness. Secondly, it reveals that the triad 'legality', 'authenticity', 'properness' of a given final product and its consequentiality are directly proportional to the degree of opacity imbricated into the practices of its production stages. On the field, such a model results in multi-level symbolic and economic values, as, for instance, different scales of price and genuiness of the same 'fake' item following the different chains of social actors: big and petty wholesalers (Italians, Africans, Chinese), Senegalese street vendors, shop owners (Italians), Italian single buyers, tourists. In relation to these starting topics the paper proposes a landscape of scenarios making up the transnational circulation of commodities through an on-going confrontation between moral, aesthetic and economic value chains via heterogeneous stakeholders and markets.

The formalization of governmental informality in Hong Kong

Author: Alan Smart (University of Calgary)  email

Short Abstract

Rejecting dualism, I examine governmental informality and how its formalization through anti-corruption changed its intersection with societal informality.

Long Abstract

The standard dualistic account neglects governmental informality, seeing government as the force which attempts, but often fails, to enforce formal regulations in the economy. Informality is seen as closely associated with corruption so that formalizing government and other procedures reduces the scope for corrupt practices. Yet, formal procedures can reduce the risks involved in profiting from public office, in ways that are often seen by the public as illicit even when formally legal. Precise formalization of what counts as corrupt allows opportunistic rent-seekers to skirt closely to the limits while being safely on the legal side. Sharp boundaries between corrupt and non-corrupt offer great possibilities for gaming the system. I explore these dynamics through archival work on the governance of squatters and street vendors in colonial Hong Kong. The 1974 Independent Commission on Corruption since 1974 emphasized precise delineation of official malfeasance.

Welfare from below: perspectives and contradictions among Roman squatters

Author: Pietro Vereni (Università "Tor Vergata" Rome)  email

Short Abstract

The presentation aims at assessing the viability of squatting as a form of “welfare from below” among multi-ethnic squats in Rome. Institutions vs associations, “Italian revolutionaries” vs “foreign want-to-be bourgeois”: a double level of necessary formal/informal interaction on the Roman field.

Long Abstract

Rome has always had an enormous «housing issue» related to its inconsistent urban development, driven mostly by individual family needs (self-construction) and the private interest of developers. This condition has spurred since the 1960s a widespread movement of squatters, often organized along political lines. This paper tries to assess the feasibility of squatting as an alternative to state, market or family driven forms of housing welfare presenting Rome as a case study. A comparison between the original squatters from the 1960s and those currently organizing occupations is firstly presented to highlight structural differences. Using short ethnographic portraits, a second part of the paper sketches the ideology of the movement as an intentional attempt to produce new forms of sociality and urban life, while the third part reports the overall negative image of any kind of squatting by media and governmental politics. In the conclusive notes a basic contradiction of Roman squatting is given central attention. While the political leadership want to transcend the bourgeois forms of urban and family life, in order to achieve that aim they have to resort as their rank and file to Italian and foreign families that often highjack that goal to be included instead into an ordinary process of «family welfarization» of their emerging bourgeois housing needs

Deformalizing the rule of law: ethnographic explorations within the legal cooperation industry

Author: Filippo Zerilli (University of Cagliari)  email

Short Abstract

Based on fieldwork conducted within EU projects of international legal cooperation this paper explores tensions and intersections between formality and informality in the field of rule of law capacity building programs.

Long Abstract

Since the end of the Cold War the world-hegemonic legal regime known as the rule of law has increasingly driven privatization, marketization and democratization programs, notably within the EU enlargement policy. However, the rule of law definition itself is controversial. And what mechanisms and ideologies secure or challenge its adoption in specific national, legal and socio-political contexts deserves closer inspection on the ground. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork conducted within legal cooperation projects between EU old member states, new member states (e.g. Romania) and potential candidate countries (e.g. Kosovo), this paper explores how formality and informality operate and intersect in rule of law capacity building programs. On the one hand the paper recognizes the circular logics of monitoring and reporting under the audit regime established through EU 'soft law' tools specifically designed to assess progresses made by recently accessed and (potential) candidate countries. On the other hand it scrutinizes informal negotiations, social arrangements and personal assessments of international legal experts and advisors (the 'developers') and local state officials (the 'developing'), as emerged while implementing EU sponsored twinning projects in diverse fields of law. Both aspects, the drafting of official documents and reports and what remains hidden or unsaid about the projects' (dis-)functioning, disclose insights into a socio-legal space that is neither entirely domestic nor international, a vantage point to explore how the rule of law is locally experienced, conceptualized and produced by 'locals' and 'internationals', as they often name themselves.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.