Informal Politics: Street Vendors and the State in Mexico City

Informal Politics: Street Vendors and the State in Mexico City

Informal Politics: Street Vendors and the State in Mexico City

Informal Politics: Street Vendors and the State in Mexico City

Synopsis

As economic crises struck the Third World in the 1970's and 1980's, large segments of the population turned to the informal economy to survive. Though this phenomenon has previously been analyzed from a strictly economic point of view, this book looks at street vending in the largest city in the world, Mexico City, as a political process. Employing a street-level analysis based on intensive participant observation, with interviews, archival research, and surveys, the author gives a view of political processes that provides new theoretical insights into our understanding of social movements, state institutions, and politics at the fringe of society, where legality blurs into illegality and the informal economy intersects with its political counterpoint - informal politics. By studying political processes at the street level and then tracing them up the political structure, the author also reveals the basic processes by which the Mexican state operates.

Excerpt

I first became interested in the informal economy while living in Mexico City from 1983 to 1984. Members of my wife's family were involved in street vending and craft work, and I had many acquaintances who also were involved in one way or another. At this time, in the economic crisis of the early 1980's, it was patently clear that the "formal" economy was far from efficient. Wages were low, work conditions were poor, and key goods were at times hard to come by. On the other hand, despite their difficulties and complaints, my friends who supplemented their income or worked full-time as petty shop keepers, street vendors, taxi drivers, and artisans or pursued one of the myriad of other informal activities that thrive in the Mexican economy seemed to be a part of something that not only helped keep the city and country going, but was also something more: It was their own. They were not only "surviving" in the face of the crisis; they had the pride that their survival was due to their own efforts, and not just due to hand-outs from the government or dependence upon an employer.

While I little dreamed of continuing my studies further, I decided to use the informal economy as the subject for a master's thesis in political sociology because I was intrigued by the question whether individuals in this sector might represent new types of economic and political interest structures. But I found that the literature on informality largely overlooked these questions, given its primary focus on the economic aspects of informality. The term as . . .

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