Accepted Paper:

The informal economy within the realm of tourism: the phenomenon of jineterismo in Cuba  
Valerio Simoni (Geneva Graduate Institute)

Paper short abstract:

Research on encounters between tourists and Cubans shows how economic aspects and evocations of formality/informality are deployed and negotiated by the actors, translating the relations between tourism and the informal economy into complex webs of meanings and practices (eg jineterismo).

Paper long abstract:

Tourism, as a major phenomenon in our contemporary world, affects the lives of millions of people in multifarious ways. However, the relationships between tourism and the informal aspects of economic life have seldom drawn the attention of anthropologists. Through the case study of Cuba, this paper examines how these relationships translate into complex webs of meanings and practices. Within this Caribbean island, the notion of the informal economy and its relations to tourism find an interesting parallel in the concept of jineterismo, a term used to describe a broad range of activities related to the hustling of tourists. Indeed, in spite of governmental efforts to frame and control tourism, many Cubans try to avoid state regulation and seek to generate opportunities to engage with tourists, offering for instance their services as guides or companions, seeking foreign friendships, selling cigars, providing sexual services, supplying illegal drugs, private taxis, accommodation or food. In the course of these encounters between tourists and Cubans, the economic aspects of their relationship, as well as evocations of the informal/formal divide, are deployed and used in a broad range of ways by the participants at stake. Thus, references to money or to any 'official realm' are alternatively emphasized or downplayed, depending on the situation. In order to appreciate and follow thoroughly these multiple facets of Cuban's engagements with tourists, this paper proposes the notion of informal encounter as a more meaningful starting point and as a more inclusive alternative to that of 'informal economy'. Furthermore, notwithstanding the benefits of these academic notions while exploring a phenomenon and establishing comparisons, a departure from them is also desirable in order to give room and recognition to the actors' own practices, categories and definitions. In Cuba, this latter move brings to the fore the world of jineterismo, with all its nuances and controversies as they are played out when Cubans and tourists meet.

Panel W057
Formal and informal economies in a global world