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The Informal Post-Socialist Economy

Embedded Practices and livelihoods

edited by: Jeremy Morris, Abel Polese
published by
: Routledge
pp: 188
ISBN: 978-0-415-85491-7
price: £ 90 (Hardback)

'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

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

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

About the authors

Jeremy Morris teaches at the University of Birmingham, UK

Abel Polese
is a research fellow at the Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction of Dublin City University and Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Political Science and Governance of Tallinn University.


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