Beyond Negative Depictions of Informal Employment: Some Lessons from Moscow

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, England, United Kingdom
Urban Studies (Impact Factor: 1.28). 11/2007; 44(12):2321-2338. DOI: 10.1080/00420980701540945


Informal employment is conventionally viewed as residual, marginal and sweatshop-like work that impairs urban economic development and social cohesion. Reporting data from 313 interviews conducted with Moscow households during 2005/06, this negative reading is found to apply to just one segment of the informal labour market in this post-socialist city— namely, informal waged employment. Examining the multiple types of informal employment conducted on an own-account basis, more positive impacts emerge of this sphere as the key seedbed for enterprise development and principal mechanism for delivering community self-help. The outcome is a call for a finer-grained understanding and more nuanced policy approach towards informal employment that recognises its plurality of forms and their varying consequences for economic development and social cohesion.

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    • "However, some of the recent sociologically-grounded work on post-socialist informality persists in seeing socialist and post-socialist economies, and formality and informality as dichotomous, with informality as a marginal 'problem', separable from the 'important' formal economy. To its credit, recent work in geography and other disciplines has highlighted that informal work, incomes and transactions, may be just as important as a normative understanding of 'work' or employment (Williams and Round 2007; Morris 2012). The perspective of formal/informal dichotomy reflects a wider unspoken normative bias in non-anthropological approaches to post-socialism that takes one of two approaches. "
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    • "'Informal' working, when depicted by such tasks, was integral to the system. Informal working, as Williams and Round (2007: 2326) suggest, thus may be considered as a 'core means of livelihood for a significant proportion of households' that has since been carried over into the new order. Rather than being discouraged by a state's entry into the world economy, the legacies of past practices of informal working are encouraged to expand. "
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    ABSTRACT: This paper seeks to explain the continuing lack of economic convergence and the persistence of market dysfunctionality, or wild capitalism, in postcommunist transformation. An overview of key statistics on economic convergence and market failure are presented. The paper then analyses the causes of malaise through the lens of institutionalist and radical perspectives. In doing so key data are assembled and presented from documents of the international financial institutions and other agencies monitoring crime and corruption. The paper concludes that, rather than encourage convergence and tame dysfunctionality, neoliberalism and its offspring of labour market reform have created the conditions for continuing economic divergence and for wild capitalism to survive and thrive.
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    • "In Ukraine research for a majority in formal employment, informal economic activity is also a significant source of income (Williams and Round, 2007a, p. 207) and moreover a deliberate choice rather than just a forced necessity (Williams and Round, 2007a, p. 212). "
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    ABSTRACT: Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore an important nexus of formal/informal economic activity in Russia: “normative” workers (in waged formal employment) by virtue of a strongly embedded work-related social identity and characterized by a significant number of weak social ties, move with little “effort” between formal and informal work. Design/methodology/approach – The paper presents extensive ethnographic data from the Russian provinces on workers and diverse economic practices. It utilizes participant observation and semi-structured interviews from periods of fieldwork over the course of a year (2009-2010). Findings – This study traces the theoretical debates on the informal economy from 1989 to 2008 and argues for a substantivist position on household reproduction that focuses on the interdependence of social networks, employment, class-identity and (informal) work. The findings demonstrate significant performative and spatial aspects of embedded worker identity, including the workspace itself as a contested domain, that facilitate movement between formal-informal work. Originality/value – The originality of the paper resides in its ethnographic approach to informal economies under post-socialism and the substantivist evaluation of diverse economic practices in Russia as supported by formal work-based shared identities.
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