Between strategy and necessity: formalized informality in urban India

Authors: Aman Luthra*, Kalamazoo College
Topics: Urban Geography, Economic Geography, Development
Keywords: informal sector, urban India, wastepickers
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Wilson C, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Although informality has long been recognized as a permanent rather than a transitional economic condition, an imperative of formalization continues to inform policymaking in urban India. This paper three sectors of the urban informal economy—domestic workers, waste pickers, and street vendors—in which national policy imperatives, workers’ movements, and changing market structures are forging consensus on the need for formalization. Although a universal definition of formalization does not yet exist, there are certain shared attributes that animate policymakers and grassroots organizers’ understandings and imaginations of this idea. In this paper, I identify three such attributes: organization, registration and licensing, and professionalization of work in the three aforementioned sectors of the urban informal economy. Based on this analysis of the changing the nature of informal work, this paper suggests that we understand these changes in the context of the competitive pressures of a rapidly changing market landscape where new market entrants such as private waste management firms, domestic help placement agencies, and privatized street vending zones, are changing the way work is done and workers are seen. Further, while formalization may have been a strategic move by informal workers’ organizations trying to carve out a semi-formal, less precarious market space for workers in the recent past, the new landscape of service provision, is rendering formalization necessary.

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