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Palgrave Macmillan

Informality, Labour Mobility and Precariousness

Supplementing the State for the Invisible and the Vulnerable

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  • © 2022


  • Examines the changing relationship between a state and its people and the meaning of non-compliance with state rules
  • Explores a unique mix of regions and situations that have rarely, if ever, been approached together in a single work
  • Looks at the role of informality across grass-root actors as well as top political and business ones

Part of the book series: International Political Economy Series (IPES)

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About this book

From the erosion of state legitimacy in Lebanon to the use of smartphones in Kyrgyzstan, from a Polish suburb to the music scene in Azerbaijan, this volume attempts to explain why, in a variety of world regions, a substantial number of people tend to ignore or act against state rules. We propose to look at informality beyond simplistic associations of the phenomenon with a single category such as "informal labour" or "corruption". By doing this, we propose to look for a correlation between the emergence, and persistence, of some informal practices and the quality of governance in a given area. We also suggest that a better understanding of the variety of informal practices present in a region can help conceptualising more adequate interventions and eventually improve the socio-economic conditions of its inhabitants.  

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Table of contents (14 chapters)


“This is a timely and impressive intervention in the field of informality, state-society relations and economic precarity. Too often in social research the significant marginalised populations in societies rich and poor are overlooked. The chapters in the volume offer a unique and nuanced analysis of the livelihood strategies and ‘nomadic’ tendencies of those rendered invisible by economic transformations – particularly in Eurasia – where the majority of the case studies are situated. As usual, Abel Polese, together with contributors, offers enormous bang for buck in his editing – an in-depth original conceptual approach drawing on political science and sociology, and careful selection of cases, including overlooked places and topics such as migrants in Spain and the aftermath of Lebanon’s sovereign debt crisis.” (Jeremy Morris, Aarhus University)

“A must read for global citizens facing informality and conflicting moral orders. A journey towards setting up the boundary between corruption and solidarity. Learn from this book and act for a better world.” (Ibrahim Sidi Zakari, Université Abdou Moumouni, Global Young Academy's member)

“Based on a range of solid case studies from different regions of the world, and enriched by the long-term commitment of each author to their fieldwork, this book has a lot to tell about the boundary between informality, solidarity and their embeddedness in localised cultural practices. Its value is the capacity to go beyond traditional approaches to informality and governance to look for informality in places where it has not been searched before, from music production to the everyday construction of social relations. Because of this, it is a valuable piece of work for development workers, researchers and decision makers at all levels.” (Zeenath Solih, The Maldives National University)

“This book offers a solid alternative approach, and excellent inspiration, to better understand precariousness and the main challenges faced by the weaker and the marginalised. Taken together, the case studies presented in the volume provide a timely contribution to some of the most urgent social theory debates. I expect this book to become a useful resource for anyone interested in how to address, both theoretically and in practice, issues related to migration, informal employment and development in from a critical perspective”. (Ahmad Harakan, Universitas Muhammadiyah Makassar, Indonesia/Editor in Chief of Journal of Contemporary Governance and Public Policy).

“Labour Mobility and Precariousness is a fine collection of well-crafted chapters that offer original insights into the different meanings of informality in countries as diverse as Romania, Spain, Croatia, Russia, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Lebanon. The world needs a better understanding of informality, now more than ever, when even in long-standing democracies states rapidly lose credibility and trust of their own citizens and a growing number of people start to engage in informal practices in order to survive in the absence of essential public services or to act against policies perceived as harmful. This volume provides an important step into the next stage of thinking about informality. Abel Polese has successfully assembled this great collection of chapters that explore the intersection of informality and the state from a primarily ethnographic perspective. Where are the boundaries between the criminal and the informal? What level of informal activity is tolerated by authorities? When does informality become socially acceptable or even a community or society-wide norm? While addressing these questions, the authors discuss a wide range of informal activities including communication, economic, and labour practices in numerous sectors from kiosks to restaurants to hospitals. This collection provides a unique insight into the life of vulnerable and marginal actors, such as undocumented migrants, ethnic entrepreneurs or homeless people, who use informality to survive or integrate into a new and culturally different context. It also offers readers an exciting journey towards the world of informality based rich qualitative and mixed-method data.” (David Jancsics, San Diego State University)

“Featuring studies on a broad variety of forms of informality, this long-awaited volume provides a much-needed reflection on informality by expanding its scope from economic to social and societal dynamics. Featuring contributions from Asia, Europe and the Middle East, the volume offers relevant food for thought to scholars interested in governance issues, no matter what their discipline.” (Marcello Mollica, Associate Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology, University of Messina).

“There is a theoretical way things should be working and how things are working in practice. We pretend to live our lives as if everything is well defined and determined by sets ofnorms and rules to be observed by individuals, states and their citizens. However, alongside this reality lies another functioning reality, that of informality. Ubiquitous, operating in the shadows, informality is an essential component of everyday governance affecting the economy, the political and state-citizen relationships. This important volume sets out its theoretical and practical contours by focusing on cases ranging all the way from Spain to the east of Russia, from the north of Europe to the Mediterranean.” (Erhan Dogan, Marmara University)

“This book offers a timely snapshot and extensive empirical insight into the multifaceted world of labour mobility and precariousness. The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has, once again, exposed the limits and contradictions of privatisation, giving us numerous examples of how informal networks and practices can significantly mitigate the shortcomings of a weakened public sector, revamping debates whither the state in the coming decades. Labour mobility and precariousness sheds light on how alternative social and economic structures can help us rethink the meaning of solidarity and morality, something that will be crucial to answer some pressing questions that will be asked to our social systems in the years to come.“ (Filippo Menga, Associate Professor of Geography, University of Bergamo)

Editors and Affiliations

  • Dublin City University, Dublin, Ireland

    Abel Polese

About the editor

Abel Polese is a researcher, trainer, writer, manager and fundraiser. His interest in theory and practice of development led him to work across disciplines, conduct research and design interventions in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas. An alumnus of the Global Young Academy, he is interested in mental health and support for early career researchers, scholars at risk and researchers from the Global South. He is the author of “The SCOPUS Diaries and the (il)logics of Academic Survival: A Short Guide to Design Your Own Strategy and Survive Bibliometrics, Conferences, and Unreal Expectations in Academia”, a reflection on academic life, research careers and the choices and obstacles young scholars face at the beginning of their career.

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