A concept at work: 'Informal economy' and contestations of labour, law and the state in Tanzania

Tutkimustuotos: OpinnäyteVäitöskirjaMonografia


This thesis is concerned with the content, context and consequences of conceptions and representations of the ‘informal economy’. The central argument is that the ‘informal economy’ presents a political and social, normative and essentially contested concept that has real (discursive, material, social) effects on current transformations of the world of work and of social order. ‘Informal economy’, as concept and imaginary, is central to formalization and informalization which are here primarily understood as discursive and political processes. The discussion engages with the perennial dispute in academia and policy-making over whether the ‘informal economy’ presents a relic of underdevelopment, a paragon of ingenious economic activity, the last resort for survival amidst capitalist accumulation processes or a community-based alternative to capitalist economic organization. At their fundament, these competing perspectives are divided over the appropriate role of the state in governing the economy. Political discourses along these lines, in turn, impact on the configuration of state governance and societal organization. The analysis builds on insights from interviews and participant observation from six months of research work in 2014-2016 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and on a review of the research literature. It presents a multidisciplinary effort, bringing together development studies, political economy and labour law to discuss the use(s) of the concept in the two dissimilar sectors of street trade and domestic work. Drawing on the discursive analytical strategies of Reinhart Koselleck and the Cultural Political Economy perspective as well as the framework of intersectionality, the study illustrates how, in Tanzania, ‘informal’ work is legally, socially and discursively constituted in dissimilar ways in small-scale trade and domestic work. Rather than a clearly definable or fixed category, informality of work is relative and relational; it intersects with post-colonial trajectories, class, gender, race and ethnicity, age, family status, income and education levels, as well as workers’ visibility in public and private workplaces. Competing conceptions of the ‘informal economy’ steer transformations in three interrelated thematic fields: labour power and organization, the promotion of rights and responsibilities, and relations between the state, market and society. Legislation and policies concerning the two sectors exemplify neoliberal and structuralist-oriented approaches. In each sector, legislation, rights discourses and state policies follow specific agendas, thereby not only influencing the dividing line between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ economic activities, but also shaping societal organization across the formal-informal divide. Legislation enables and disables labour struggles in the respective sectors; rights discourses promote access to different kinds of rights for different groups; urban and formalization policies determine which groups have access to public space, formal frameworks and legal protection. While the findings of this study confirm the structuralist perspective on the ‘informal economy’ as primarily a domain of survivalist struggles, in recent decades, neoliberal conceptions have been influential, particularly with regard to street trade. This has had harmful consequences for the most disadvantaged groups among street traders. However, the neoliberal discourse is challenged in the sector of domestic work as well as at the nodes between global discourses and the particularities of everyday Tanzanian labour relations.
Myöntävä instituutio
  • Helsingin yliopisto
  • Koponen, Juhani, Valvoja
  • Jauhola, Marjaana, Valvoja
Myöntöpäivämäärä8 lokakuuta 2020
Painoksen ISBN978-951-51-6550-3
Sähköinen ISBN978-951-51-6551-0
TilaJulkaistu - 8 lokakuuta 2020
OKM-julkaisutyyppiG4 Tohtorinväitöskirja (monografia)


  • 5203 Globaali kehitystutkimus

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