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Informal Employment in the Global South: Globalization, Production Relations, and “Precarity”

Precarious Work

ISBN: 978-1-78743-288-8, eISBN: 978-1-78743-287-1

Publication date: 19 December 2017


In this chapter, we aim to illustrate some of the forms taken by informal employment in the global south and how these can best be understood by adopting a wider analytical lens than has been applied in much of the precarious employment literature. We draw on the findings of a recent study of the working conditions of urban informal workers from 10 cities in the global south. The study consisted of focus groups (15 in each city) conducted through the framework of a participatory informal economy appraisal as well as a survey of 1,957 home-based workers, street vendors, and waste pickers. Our findings illustrate a number of ways in which these three groups of informal workers are embedded within the formal economy. While they are not engaged in wage employment, they play subordinate roles to both formal sector firms within global production networks and unequal production relations and to the state through, inter alia, constrained access to public spaces and regulation. In order to interpret these findings, we apply Agarwala’s (2009) “relational” lens to demonstrate how risks and costs are transferred to workers who constitute the “real economy” in much of the global south. Given the often disguised connections between informal employment and the formal economy, this approach also provides a bridge to understanding precarious working conditions and the effects of globalization outside of the industrialized north.




The authors would like to acknowledge Joann Vanek for providing comments on an earlier draft of this manuscript and for her contributions to the section which outlines the conceptual differences between precarious and informal employment. The constructive and helpful comments of two anonymous reviewers are also acknowledged.


Rogan, M., Roever, S., Chen, M.A. and Carré, F. (2017), "Informal Employment in the Global South: Globalization, Production Relations, and “Precarity”", Kalleberg, A.L. and Vallas, S.P. (Ed.) Precarious Work (Research in the Sociology of Work, Vol. 31), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 307-333.



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