Middle Eastern Women and the Invisible Economy

By Richard A. Lobban | Go to book overview

14
Engaging Informality Women, Work, and Politics in Cairo

Diane Singerman

Despite contentious debates surrounding the boundaries and nature of the informal sector, scholars and policy makers have largely investigated the informal sector from an economic perspective. Hidden and invisible sources of production and employment in the informal economic sector, recently "discovered" through new methodologies and conceptual frameworks, have been seen by some as possible antidotes to poverty and unemployment, and by others as the source of exploitation. Economists debated the extent of employment and production of the informal economy, its effect on wage levels, the structure of the sector, its relationships to the domestic formal economy, and its place within the increasingly globalized economy. Detailed fieldwork by anthropologists and economists, supplemented by macrolevel economic analysis, demonstrated the significant value of goods and services that women and men produced in the informal sector throughout the developing and developed worlds.1

We tend to think of the informal sector as a realm of exchange where the market or marketlike forces animate interaction. People associate, in other words, to buy and sell goods. Buying and selling, however, do not take place in a political vacuum. They are embedded in a wider sphere of social life in which people act together to build institutions and forge modes of activity that shape the boundaries, meaning, and character of exchange. Cultural and gendered understandings of work illuminate the behaviors and institutions that order communal life beyond the market. Clearly, market forces are influenced by other interests, values, and patterns of behavior. Too often, we distort analyses of the informal sector by isolating ex

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