EASA, 2006: EASA06: Europe and the world

Bristol, UK, 18/09/2006 – 21/09/2006


Formal and informal economies in a global world

Location Queens 1.18
Date and Start Time 20 Sep, 2006 at 11:30


Antónia Pedroso de Lima ( ISCTE-IUL / CRIA ) email
Manuela Cunha (Universidade do Minho, CRIA-UMinho) email
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Short Abstract

Without reifying a distinction between formal and informal or dismissing its structuring effects, the workshop will discuss the importance of informal aspects of economic daily life in the actual activities of economic systems in different ethnographic contexts in our contemporary global world.

Long Abstract

The coexistence and practical hybridation of the formal and informal economy is not a new issue. The interconnections between these universes of action have been underlined by many scholars in several ethnographic contexts and historical moments. Although the notion of 'informal economy' is itself a highly criticised and imprecise concept, it signalises important aspects of the contemporary global world; it does not correspond to a given reality but translates in manifold ways into social life. Economic activities that go unnoticed and escape state regulation can constitute complex and sometimes powerful systems of meaning and action. They can combine within a multiplicity of forms which highlight the pervasiveness, as well as a particular ingrainment, of economic processes in daily social relations: domestic work, mutual aid, moonlighting, irregular markets of licit products, contraband and circulation of illicit goods, counterfeiting and corruption, and also aspects of legal business as family networks behind economic organisations. Neither reifying categorical distinctions between formal and informal, nor dismissing their structuring effects, we aim to discuss the relationship between native practices and perceptions of economy. Panelists are invited to assess the importance of the informal aspects of economic daily life in the existence and reproduction of the visible/formal economic system in different ethnographic contexts. Addressing economy as 'a multidimensional practical thing that people do' we can shed light on new or neglected aspects of already known realities. This workshop intends to combine studies dealing with diversified empirical realities that can contribute to an anthropology of coexisting economies in the contemporary global world.

Chair: Antónia Pedroso de Lima and Manuela Ivone Cunha


'Barakatia' Lisbon: Bengali Muslims and the making of the world economy

Author: José Mapril (Universidade Nova de Lisboa and Center for Research in Anthropology (CRIA))  email
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Long Abstract

Through the ethnographic example of Bengali Muslims in Lisbon, I intend to discuss how formal and informal economic activities should be considered the poles of a continuum of social action; not intrinsic opposites (as dominant voices would put it, e.g. the state and several international agencies). In order to develop such an argument I will explore the economic activities developed by some of my interlocutors which clearly show that formal and informal economic activities coexist side by side. Arguing that they coexist does not mean that both are equally visible, on the contrary. Since formality and informality are subject to different regulation regimes one should try to interpret such a continuum through the dialectic relation between revelation and concealment.

Counting as economic acting

Author: Amanda Krzyworzeka (University of Warsaw)  email
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Long Abstract

Conducting fieldwork in Polish countryside for 7 years now, on several topics (from ethnopolitology to peasants' moaning, and recently on cultural dimensions of economic changes) I could not miss the phenomenon of counting. Numbers, counting, calculating, numerals, rules of arithmetic are inseparable elements of almost all conversations in the countryside. It shows again and again, in all contexts and subjects (whether it is church policy, the current situation of agriculture, grandchildren's future plans, new plants used in a garden, or neighbours' life stories).

It is not just recalling the prices, and not only a narrative strategy: it shows a way of thinking and a special view of the surrounding world, economic attitudes. Sometimes counting is just a short mention, an example or illustration of a story. Often, however, it is a long sequence linking together different elements of reality.

One of the roles of counting which I identified, I called "erzatz". The surrounding reality seems often incomprehensible, unclear and strange. Counting, calculating, comparing and other similar activities give the illusion of power, of domination over different facts and links between them. It can also replace economic acting.

Another dimension of the phenomenon is rhetoric. People which I met during my fieldworks used numbers for their own rhetoric purposes in a perfect way, in their speeches numbers became the arguments that couldn't be rejected. This tendency is also visible in the public life, especially in politics (a good example here is the populist Andrzej Lepper). In a way it is a kind of creation of a new economic reality.

In my paper I would like to develop this subject, to consider different meanings of counting, to look at the roles and contexts of this phenomenon. In the case of many Polish farmers speaking is an equivalent of acting, whenever they are not able to be fully actors of the economic reality. I believe that this mathematic-counting sphere of life, shown on a language level, is a significant part of informal economy.

'Formal or informal miracle': Mauritian economic globalisation in the 20th century

Author: Patrick Neveling (University of Bergen)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper discusses the intersection of formal and informal economic activities in the historical and present day development of the textile and garment industry of Mauritius. The industry is presented as the stepping stone for successful export-led development, in the 1990s even called an "economic miracle in the Indian Ocean", in World Bank reports and scientific literature. Analysis here usually draws on locational factors and flexible legal as well as institutional politics at the national level. Drawing on extensive field and archival research in Mauritius and England the paper applies the anthropological framework of formal and informal economic strategies to two case studies: the events which led to the foundation of the Mauritian Export-Processing Zone and the establishment of numerous stores for 'legal' bootlegs of "haut de gamme" clothing. We thus gain a different picture of Mauritius' successful integration into the global market for textiles and garments: A strategy of conscious oscillation between formal and informal economic strategies by local and translocal actors using informal strategies as a testing ground for export-led development dependent on the legal and political integration of the Mauritian state into the world market.

Constructing and deconstructing legality: industrial practices and politics of economy in an industrial district of south Italy

Author: Valeria Siniscalchi (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Marseille)  email
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Long Abstract

Dans mon intervention, à partir d'un cas ethnographique précis, je voudrais réfléchir aux postures que les anthropologues assument, quand ils analysent des objets et des terrains qui sont également appropriés par les économistes. Que peut aujourd'hui apporter l'analyse anthropologique à la compréhension de phénomènes qui sont aussi l'objet des expertises des économistes ? Comment des logiques économiques locales dialoguent-elles avec les discours des économistes ou avec les représentations de l'économie produites par l'Union européenne ? Je m'attacherai à étudier en particulier les modalités de construire la légalité des activités industrielles à l'intérieur d'un district industriel. La mise en place d'un district industriel textile et le projet de création d'un master d'économie dans la commune de San Marco dei Cavoti (Région Campanie) sont deux composantes d'un processus plus large de restructuration de l'économie locale. A partir des années 1980, dans l'aire sur laquelle j'ai travaillé, des activités textiles -travaillant en sous-traitance pour des entreprises du Centre et du Nord de l'Italie- sont apparues avec une concentration géographique telle qu'elle a permis au secteur d'obtenir en 1997 le label de district industriel de la part de la Région Campanie. Dans mon intervention, j'analyserai les discours produits par les économistes sur ces phénomènes et la manière dont ces discours et les logiques qui les sous-tendent sont utilisés au niveau local par les entrepreneurs, en particulier pour construire et déconstruire le caractère légal de leurs activités. Le regard ethnographique permet d'analyser les conceptions et les pratiques de l'économie et de la rationalité économique qui sont à l'œuvre dans ces processus, en partie souterrains, peu accessibles aux analyses des économistes.

The capitalism spirit in a local economy? Informal trade in Mandlakazi (southern Mozambique)

Author: Fernando Bessa Ribeiro  email
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Long Abstract

The small-scale market-oriented production and informal production activities are wide spread all over the world, with special intensity in Africa and Latin America. The informal economy is, in many cases, an opportunity window for all those that were marginalized by the new settings induced by outcomes of the neoliberal politics.

The paper discusses the data collected during the ethnographic fieldwork in Mandlakazi, a small town of Southern Mozambique. It starts with a historically view about the rise of the informal trade in that town. It will then show how the reorganization of the economic life is a consequence of the decline of the wage work, a consequence of the politics of structural adjustment imposed by some international organizations, such as International Monetary Found and World Bank. Special attention will be paid to forms of circulation of commodities in Mandlakazi local markets, credit mechanisms, practices of regulation of economic competition and prices formation and the key economic roles carried out by the women. Social actors are elements of intricate networks of social relationships, thus mobilizing various sources of knowledge, capital and other resources. In any case, both the actor's expectations and ambiguities raise important questions about the stratification and social classes theories.

Staging formality: commerce and state in Katanga (DRC)

Author: Benjamin Rubbers (Université de Liège)  email
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Long Abstract

My paper will offer an analysis of the relationship between commercial activity and administrative control in Katanga, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. First, I will criticize the formal/informal opposition to stress, in the vein of H. Becker, the moral processes by which actors label economic practices. Far from being restricted to contraband, fraud implies in most cases the active collaboration of officials in Congo, as I will demonstrate through the multiple manners to make enter goods from Zambia. The definition of what is 'formal' generally comes down, then, to a matter of 'dis-simulation' which businessmen negotiate with officials at the backstage.

In the light of this ambiguity, the formal/informal dilemma is best understood in the anthropological paradigm of corruption. The latter can be conceived, I will argue in a second time, as a codified interaction which requires social and cultural skills as well as a material and symbolic exchange embedded in specific social networks (parents, neighbours, friends, etc.). But it can also be interpreted as a kind of deviance appealing to conflicting moral evaluations and an object of rumours which convey accusations and justifications in local society. All these theoretical suggestions will be illustrated by ethnographic materials taken from my fieldwork in Katanga.

Finally, I will show how these operations of administrative dissimulation, which take place at different political levels, shape the commercial circuits of importation. They organize consequently the social world of merchants in Katanga so far that an approximate correlation can be found between its hierarchy and the informal structure of the State.

'God's messengers on the earth': informal and formal roles of custom brokers in Russia

Author: Irina Olimpieva (Centre for Independent Social Research)  email
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Long Abstract

The paper seeks to explore the interplay of formal and informal relationships and practices at Russian customs. It is focused on combination of formal and informal components in mediating functions of custom brokers. In contrast to western countries, the role of Russian custom brokers is not so much to assist businessmen in going through customs formalities, but to manipulate the system in order to reduce cargo costs and accelerate the process via informal channels. A special market of informal custom services has been formed during the last decade offering a wide spectrum of custom clearance' schemes - from "white or light-grey" to "fast black". The same colour spectrum is used to mark the legal status of custom brokers.

The paper will demonstrate the diversity of informal relationships at customs. We will focus more precisely on the role of informality and trust in relationships between businessmen-clients and custom brokers as well as between the later and custom officials. "White" or "grey" status of custom brokers can hardly explain the degree of their involvement in informal relationships. As it follows from our study, "white" brokers are the same active in using "grey" schemas as "grey" brokers. It will be also shown that informal relationships with custom officials is a crucial point of any custom clearance procedure - either "white" or "grey".

The empirical data for the paper is drawn mainly from 12 in-depth interviews with custom brokers, businessmen-clients and custom officials at St. Petersburg customs conducted within the frame of the project "Intermediaries' Boom and Informal Relationships in the Business Sphere and Everyday life" (2005) supported by Jefferson Institute. For the analysis of the role of informality in everyday economic life we also use about 30 interviews with businessmen conducted for the project «Prospects for Fighting Corruption in Post Socialist Countries: Cases of Russia and Hungary» (2003-2004).

The informal economy within the realm of tourism: the phenomenon of jineterismo in Cuba

Author: Valerio Simoni (The Graduate Institute, Geneva)  email
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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.

Formal and informal care in Catalonia: old women's perception of their duties and rights as regards care

Author: Silvia Bofill Poch (University of Barcelona)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper shows the results of a research study carried out in Catalonia which deals with care and the system of social protection to dependents. It addresses care in relation to the elderly and analyses the interaction between the social services as regards municipal health services, nets of family and community solidarity, and any other services available nowadays. Our research question refers to the elders' expectations as far as their own care is concerned and how it is different from previous generations. In Spain, the most frequent model of dependence has been traditionally based on the informal care taken by the family unit -mainly women-. However, the ethnographic fieldwork reveals that a remarkable sector of elderly women show a different perception of care depending on whether they are being addressed as daughters -care givers-, or mothers -care takers-. As daughters, they hardly ever question whether they must take care of their parents; whereas, as mothers, they are ambivalent over their right to be looked after by their children. Contrary to what might be expected, a significant number of women who have worked as care takers for their elders -in some cases over long periods of time and at the expense of making huge personal and material sacrifices- do not claim attention from their relatives, but would rather be taken care of by public institutions that are often unavailable (well-developed home-help services, decent vacancies in public nursing homes; well-fitted out buildings and homes; fully-equipped shared flats; etc.)

Thus, it should be highlighted that fewer claims on family duties (i.e.: expecting to be looked after by their children) are replaced by increased claims on public home-help services, which are regarded as citizenship rights. However, due to limited economic resources and scant public supplies, the only resource available seems to be quite often the informal care provided by either family relatives or by the so-called black economy, which is mainly fed by non-professional informal "elderly- care takers", who are usually immigrants. It should be pointed out, though, that the elders usually resort to these people because their economic and political context prevents their access to other preferred resources. As a consequence, the moral field of family duties is being redefined: children are not in charge of their elders' care anymore and elderly people ask for their right to receive help from public authorities, in terms of being part of the citizenry.

* The following research study has been carried out within a research project, "Cultures of responsibility in the economic and political domain: morality, reciprocity and resource circulation", directed by Dr. Susana Narotzky and financed by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology (reference BS022003-06832). Likewise, it has been subsidized by the Centre de Promoció de la Cultura Tradicional i Popular de Catalunya (Department of Culture, Generalitat de Catalunya) (reference 2005/02349).

Non-monetary exchange networks and 'free shops' in Berlin: 'heterodox' consumption and the hybridisation of everyday economies

Author: Irene Sabaté (University of Barcelona)  email
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Long Abstract

This paper is based on an ethnography of 'heterodox' consumption in the inner city of the former East Berlin. Practices based on non-market exchange (tauschen) and on the provisioning of free goods and services (schenken) have been examined in the context of a withdrawing social State and of a spreading market economy. Most of these experiences are related to social, political or environmental consciousness and activism, and are known as 'alternative projects'. Among other claims, they criticize the commoditization of social relations and the ubiquity of money promoted by capitalism.

Regardless of their various degrees of institutionalisation and of the different strategies adopted, most of the projects aim at giving rise to reciprocity practices which, in turn, are expected to grow increasingly informal, as social networks are created and strengthened.

Nevertheless, these initiatives succeed differently in generating reciprocity. On the one hand, while 'schenken' projects -such as Umsonstläden, "free shops"- explicitly aim at the creation of a generalised reciprocity sphere, they fail to produce community binding, mutual obligation and a shared morality. On the other hand, 'tauschen' projects based on exchange -such as Tauschringe, non-monetary exchange networks-, and thus on the equal value of the transacted goods and services, potentially induce disinterested gift-giving practices as a result of frequent transactions bringing participants socially closer. Participants attaining such closeness eventually avoid the formal structure of the exchanges imposed by the network.

The ethnographic material I present accounts for 'heterodox' attitudes towards market consumption giving rise to a coexistence of different circulation patterns such as gift-giving practices without moral obligation or community bonds, and balanced exchanges leading to informal, reciprocity-like relations.

Networks and informality in a formal world: financial elites in global economies

Author: Antónia Pedroso de Lima ( ISCTE-IUL / CRIA )  email
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Long Abstract

In this paper I will argue that most of the economic dividends produced by Portuguese financial elite families are a result of multiple forms of relations and cannot be understood only through an economic perspective. Based on fieldwork among financial elite families in Portugal this paper will address the challenge of thinking "global top economy" through personal networks at a world scale. Ethnographic data showed that formal business in our global modern capitalist world, are also constituted through personal social affective ties in which informality and amity become as important as professional competence. Although prevailing models of capitalist society represent economics as the basis of its social system and kinship and personal relations as a destabilizing force that undermines it. I argue, in contrast, that a significant part of Portugal's modern economy - and its presence in world economy - is mobilized by catholic familial values and ideas that operate as a force for capitalist development. Furthermore, a significant part of the international business relations they are engaged in are also mobilized through informal ties that bind elite families around the world.