Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 117–138 | Cite as

The Peddlers’ Aristocracy: Social Closure, Path-Dependence, and Street Vendors in São Paulo

  • Jacinto CuviEmail author


Disabled street vendors occupy the best licensed locations in downtown São Paulo and have done so for several decades, despite repeated attempts to remove them from the streets or open up the trade to the able-bodied. Drawing on social closure and new institutionalist theory, this paper analyzes the policymaking process toward disabled and elderly street vendors over the last 60 years. It argues that these social groups initially benefited from a policy granting them special rights, which evolved into a monopoly over street vending licenses, and that political stability during the military dictatorship (1964–1985) allowed them to accumulate nonmaterial assets such as symbolic capital and political influence. Organized disabled and elderly vendors subsequently used these assets to shape the outcomes of reforms and preserve their relative advantage, thereby constructing the unequal legacy of social closure.


Public policy Social closure Informal economy Brazil 



I am grateful to Ari Adut, Javier Auyero, Manuel Balán, Fred Block, Daniel Fridman, Nadya Araujo Guimarães, Erik Martinez-Kuhonta, Philip Oxhorn, Bryan Roberts, and participants at a PhD dissertation workshop at McGill University for their comments and suggestions. This research was supported by a Doc.Mobility grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation, a Doctoral Dissertation Research Improvement Grant from the National Science Foundation (award number 1434160), and a studentship from the Foundation for Urban and Regional Studies.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut de SociologieUniversité de NeuchâtelNeuchâtelSwitzerland

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