Academic journal article Cityscape

Informal Trade Meets Informal Governance: Street Vendors and Legal Reform in India, South Africa, and Peru

Academic journal article Cityscape

Informal Trade Meets Informal Governance: Street Vendors and Legal Reform in India, South Africa, and Peru

Article excerpt


In the wake oi the 2008 global financial crisis, governments and donor agencies increasingly are recognizing the need to rethink employment as a central component oi economic recovery and long-term development. A significant shiit within that renewed locus is the recognition oi iniormal livelihoods as a iorm oi employment that is here to stay. The World Bank, ior instance, has declared that "a global agenda ior jobs is needed" (The World Bank, 2013: 38) and echoed the OECD's recent conclusion that iniormal is normal (OECD, 2009). Official statistics indicate that informal employment accounts tor much more than one-halt of total nonagricultural employment in most developing regions-as much as 82 percent in South Asia and 66 percent in sub-Saharan Atrica (ILO and WIEGO, 2013)-and one-halt or more of intormal workers in most regions are selt-employed (Vanek et al., 2014).

The shift in locus toward intormal seli-employment is especially significant tor the urban development agenda. Renewed calls tor sustainable and participatory approaches to urban development (tor example, UN-Habitat, 2013) require the collective engagement of those who work informally, because they torm the majority of workers in many cities (Herrera et al., 2012) but tend to lack representative voice in decisionmaking (Brown and Lyons, 2010; Horn, 2015; Kabeer, 2015). Among the informally selt-employed, street vendors comprise as much as 15 percent of total urban employment and 25 percent of total urban intormal employment in low-income countries and between 2 and 11 percent of urban intormal employment in middle-income countries (Herrera et al., 2012; ILO and WIEGO, 2013)-a substantial and visible part of many urban worktorces.

Street trade has long attracted both policy attention and research interest (Bromley, 2000). Recent scholarship is increasingly focused on the interplay between street vendors and local governments and, in particular, the ways in which the state ascribes and constructs intormal status on street vendors and the ways in which it does so through a lens of neoliberal entrepreneurial governance (Crossa, 2009; Devlin, 2011; Donovan, 2008; Morange, 2015; Oz and Eder, 2012; Steel, Ujoranyi, and Owusu, 2014; Xue and Huang, 2015). A common theme within this emerging literature is its exploration of governance practices, undertaken on the part of state actors, that likewise could be considered intormal.

This article addresses the theme of intormal governance practices as they relate to street trading. It begins by establishing a baseline of evidence on these practices trom hve cities across three continents, drawing trom qualitative and quantitative data trom 2012. The analysis suggests that three common governance practices-low-level harassment, merchandise confiscations, and periodic evictions-emerge in urban governance contexts in which the rules about the economic right to use public space tor petty trading are ambiguous, but also in which limitations on the state's powers are ambiguous. It then examines legal processes in three of the cities as sites of contestation where street vendors have attempted, and been successful at, establishing clearer limits on the local state's power to engage in intormal governance practices. The analysis implies that the beginnings of a trend toward legalizing the use of public space tor trading may be starting to emerge, but that one necessary condition tor such legalization is a coalition of street vending organizations and elite actors with a common commitment to advancing the right to livelihood.

Informal Trade Versus Informal Governance in Global Cities

Street trade played a central role in the development of the concept of economic informality in the 1970s (Hart, 1973; Moser, 1978) and 1980s (Castells and Portes, 1989; De Soto, 1989). Whereas some of the earlier conceptualizations placed street traders and other intormal workers outside state regulations and formal economic structures, more recent research has emphasized the role of the state and social institutions in constructing and governing informality (Harriss-White, 2009; Roy 2005; Watson, 2011, 2009; Xue and Huang, 2015). …

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