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The informal post-socialist economy: embedded practices and livelihoods

edited by: Jeremy Morris, Abel Polese
published by
: Routledge
pp: 188

Book's frontpage

From smugglers to entrepreneurs, blue-collar workers and taxi drivers, this book deals with the multitude of characters engaged in informal economic practices in the former socialist regions. Going beyond a conception of informality as opposed to the formal sector, its authors demonstrate the fluid nature of informal transactions straddling the crossroads between illegal, illicit, socially acceptable and symbolically meaningful practices. Their argument is informed by a wide range of case studies, from Central Europe to the Baltics and Central Asia, each of which is constructed around a single informant. Each chapter narrates the story of a composite person or household that was carefully selected or constructed by an author with long-standing ethnographic research experience in the given field site.

Wide in geographical, empirical and theoretical scope, the book uses ethnographic narrative accounts of everyday life to make links between ‘ordinary’ meanings of informality. Challenging reductively economistic perspectives on cross-border trading, undeclared work and other informal activities, the authors illustrate the wide variety of interpretive meanings that people ascribe to such practices. Alongside ‘getting by’ and ‘getting ahead’ in recently marketised societies, these meanings relate to sociality, kinship-ties and solidarity, along with more surprising ‘political’ and moral reasonings.


Table of contents

Foreword Catherine Wanner
Introduction: Informality – Enduring Practices, Entwined Livelihoods Jeremy Morris and Abel Polese

Part 1: ‘Entrepreneurial’ Informality? Self- and Off-the-books Employment
1. The Diverse Livelihood Practices of Health-care Workers in Ukraine: the Case of Sasha and Natasha Colin C Williams and Olga Onoschenko
2. The Story of Šarūnas: an Invisible Citizen of Lithuania Ida Harboe Knudsen
3. Moonlighting Strangers Met on the Way: the Nexus of Informality and Blue-collar Sociality in Russia Jeremy Morris
4. Nannies and Informality in Romanian Local Childcare Markets Borbála Kovács 5. Drinking with Vova: An Individual Entrepreneur between Illegality and Informality Abel Polese
6. When is an Illicit Taxi Driver More than a Taxi Driver? Case Studies from Transit and Trucking in Post-socialist Slovakia David Karjanen

Part 2: At Home Abroad? Transnational Informality and the Invisible Flows of People and Goods
7. From Shuttle Trader to Businesswomen: the Informal Bazaar Economy in Kyrgyzstan Anna Cieślewska 8. ‘Business as Casual’: Shuttle Trade on the Belarus-Lithuania Border
Olga Sasunkevich
9. ‘The Glove Compartment Half-full of Letters’ – Informality & Cross-border Trade at the Edge of the Schengen Area Kristine Müller and Judith Miggelbrink
10. Informal Economy Writ Large and Small: From Azerbaijani Herb Traders to Moscow Shop Owners Lale Yalçın-Heckmann


'This book brings together an interesting set of contributions on the important theme of informality, ranging from cross-border petty trading, informal blue-collar moonlighting to employment and entrepreneurship. The editors stimulate a timely discussion about the nature of informality and encourage readers to think laterally and broadly about the relations between informality and formal structures of power and economy.'
– Sally Nikoline Cummings, University of St Andrews, UK

'This book is essential reading not only for those who seek a nuanced understanding of the nature of informal economic practices but also those interested in acquiring a deeper appreciation of this most fascinating of regions, the world that abandoned communism, often without implementing a sustainable alternative. Illuminating and frequently surprising, even for those intimate with the region, this superb collection is destined to become the standard work for those intrigued by these vital economic practices that lie just beneath the surface or out of public view throughout the post-communist world.'
– Donnacha Ó Beacháin, Dublin City University, Ireland

'From illicit Taxi drivers in Slovakia to herb traders in Azerbaijan, the diverse and rich ethnographic case studies in this volume provide a vivid and colourful analysis of informal practices and transactions in the post-Socialist space. The Informal Post-Socialist Economy makes an important contribution to our conceptual understanding of informal practices. Rather than viewing informality as marginal, transitional and lurking in the shadows, in this volume Jeremy Morris and Abel Polese adopt a post-structural approach and have brought together cases studies which finesse a more nuanced understanding of informality. This is achieved by studying informal economic practices through the lens of the socially embedded every-day lived experience of people’s lives. In doing so it achieves a shift in our normative understanding of the nature of informal practices and also challenges the perceived binary between formal and informal economies. The significant in-field experience and inter-disciplinary nature of the volume’s contributions gives the ethnographic case studies great depth which acts to highlight the tension within informal economic practices between a capitalist individualist logic and logic of mutuality and reciprocity. This probing and fascinating book will be of great interest to a broad range of scholars and students interested in the economy and politics of post-Socialist states.'
– Rico Isaacs, Oxford Brookes University, UK

'This edited volume is an excellent contribution to our understanding of informality in the context of post-socialist economies. With rich empirical evidence gathered from a vast geography stretching between Central Asia and Eastern Europe, the authors reveal an untold story of capitalist transformation. In their anthropological and ethnographic research the human condition takes the central place, not frequently misrepresented economic growth figures and business statistics. We read about tragedies, disappointments as well as hopes of new entrepreneurs within capitalist market developments. They all strive to have a small stake in the winners world. Informal Post-Socialist Economy is a very valuable source for scholars and practitioners.'
– Gül Berna Özcan, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK


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