Random readings on society, politics and change – Jorge Carrillo
Focussing on policies towards urban street trade in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in this paper I illustrate how despite the widely acknowledged limits to its analytical usefulness, the contested and politically charged concept of the ‘informal economy’ continues to play a vital role in informing strategies of economic and social development on multiple levels of government. I argue that while the negative connotations of the concept continue to cast street trade as an aberration from the norm of formalised economic activity, its usage distracts from the causes and conditions of street trade and leads to a narrow focus on business formalisation, with disastrous consequences for traders and city authorities. I aim at making a conceptual and empirical contribution, structured in two parts: First, starting from Keith Hart’s reflections, I sketch out the discussions surrounding the concept of the informal economy and highlight its socially constructed and normative dimension. In the second part, I delineate the legal status of street trade in Tanzania. The conception of street trade as ‘informal’ is then traced from an international think tank to a national formalisation programme, further to urban planning and law enforcement policies, and finally contrasted with the views of traders.
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