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(In)formalizing China’s urban entrepreneurial space: state, market, and society

Authors: Yawei Zhao*, University of Calgary
Topics: Urban Geography, China, Asia
Keywords: Informal economy, urban entrepreneurship, China
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/8/2020
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual Track 3
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Mainstream accounts interpret the formalization of informal urban space as a state-driven process, and hence overlook the delicate interplay and inseparability of state, market, and society. Drawing on fieldwork data collected since 2014 on an entrepreneurial street in Dali, southwest China, this paper attempts to address this omission through a temporal lens. The street was at first informally occupied by young street vendors, which soon became a popular spot among Chinese tourists and was recognized and named by the municipal government as “Entrepreneurial Street for College Graduates”. Tensions and conflicts then arose between small entrepreneurs, original residents and shop owners, and urban authorities, resulting in the displacement of street vending and establishment of a designated vending zone in nearby and less contested public space. Informalities persist around formalized vending, but in a much more subtle manner. By analyzing the role and agency of various actants involved in this process, this paper elucidates ‘variegated urban informality’ and articulates the analytical value of the state-market-society triad in understanding (in)formality.

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