Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Beyond Market-Oriented Readings of Paid Informal Work: Some Lessons from Rural England

Academic journal article The American Journal of Economics and Sociology

Beyond Market-Oriented Readings of Paid Informal Work: Some Lessons from Rural England

Article excerpt

I

Introduction

WITH THE "CULTURAL TURN/S" ACROSS THE SOCIAL SCIENCES, there have been many fresh interpretations of established issues. One such realm in which this has occurred is monetary exchange. Cultural analysts have started to unpack the notion that monetary exchange in advanced economies is always profit-motivated and market-like (e.g., Amin and Thrift 2000; Crang 1996, 1997; Crewe 2000; Crewe and Gregson 1998; Davies 1992; Lee 1997, 2000; Thrift and Olds 1996). For these analysts, such market-oriented readings of monetary exchange "simply ... do not convey the richness and messiness of the exchange experience" in the advanced economies (Crewe and Gregson 1998: 41).

Until now, the complex characters and logics of monetary exchange have been unraveled by studying a variety of "alternative economic spaces" such as the garage sale (e.g., Soiffer and Herrmann 1987), the car boot sale (e.g., Crewe and Gregson 1998), second-hand shops (e.g., Gregson, Crewe, and Brooks 2001), and local currency schemes (e.g., Boyle 1999; Lee 1996; North 1999; Offe and Heinze 1992; Williams 1996; Williams et al. 2001). To further contribute to this rereading of monetary exchange, the intention of this article is to investigate a much larger realm of activity that represents between 7 and 16 percent of GDP (Commission of the European Communities 1998) and one that is viewed as an exemplar of profit-motivated monetary exchange embedded in market conditions. This is the sphere of paid informal work.

To do this, first the main theoretical streams of thought on paid informal work are reviewed in order to display how market conditions and profit-motivated rationales are commonly applied to such monetary exchanges. Second, to evaluate critically this market-based reading of paid informal work, the results are reported of interviews with 350 households in rural England, investigating the social relations within which this work is conducted, followed by the motives of purchasers and suppliers. The finding is that this form of monetary exchange is far from being universally carried out under market-oriented relations for profit-motivated purposes. The article thus concludes by calling for greater recognition of the heterogeneous social relations and motives underpinning monetary exchange in contemporary capitalist society.

Before commencing, however, it is first necessary to define what is here meant by "paid informal work." This economic activity is often known by a multitude of different names such as the "black economy," "underground sector," "hidden work," "informal employment," and the "shadow economy" (see Thomas 1992; Williams and Windebank 1998). Despite this variety of names, however, there is a strong consensus over its definition. It involves the paid production and sale of goods and services that are unregistered by or hidden from the state for tax, social security, and/or labor law purposes but that are legal in all other respects (Commission for the European Communities 1998; Feige 1990; Portes 1994; Thomas 1992; Williams and Windebank 1998). Such work thus covers activities that are illegal because of their nondeclaration to the state for tax, social security, and/or labor law purposes. It excludes activities in which the good and/or service itself is illegal (e.g., drug trafficking, prostitution). Put another way, it includes only activity where the means do not comply with regulations but the ends (goods and services) are legitimate (Staudt 1998).

II

Theorizations of Paid Informal Exchange

UNTIL NOW, THE PRINCIPAL FOCUS OF INQUIRY WHEN STUDYING paid informal work has been upon how its magnitude varies, both geographically (e.g., Commission of the European Communities 1998; Feige 1990; Fortin et al. 1996; Jenson, Cornwell, and Findeis 1996; Renooy 1990; Thomas 1999; Williams and Windebank 1998) and across socioeconomic groups (e.g., Leonard 1994, 1998; Pahl 1984). …

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