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2022 | Book

Informality, Labour Mobility and Precariousness

Supplementing the State for the Invisible and the Vulnerable


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.

Table of Contents



The (Im)Moralities of Informality: States, Their Citizens and Conflicting Moral Orders
To most, if not all, people active in the anti-corruption industry, this transaction that I witnessed has all the features of a bribe. The nurse could (or should) have refused the money since she had already a salary paid from the state and was not going to declare that extra income. But such a gesture has a different meaning in a hospital in London and Kyiv. In the latter context, doctors would work long hours for a salary that is a fraction of what they need to get to the end of the month.
Abel Polese


(Im)Mobilities and Informality as Livelihood Strategies in Transnational Social Fields
This chapter explores the relationship between (im)mobility and informality by analyzing how informal practices evolve when people migrate and move within transnational social fields. The livelihood perspective allows us to analyze informality and (im)mobility as strategies that individuals and households perform to make a living, including the role played by institutions. The chapter shows that transnational migrants learn how to navigate and exploit formal rules to get things done by adapting their informal practices to the new context following two parallel processes: informalization and formalization. On the one hand, adapting informality entails learning the unwritten rules and selecting, preserving, and adjusting some informal practices while abandoning others, primarily illegal, illicit, and harmful. On the other hand, the formalization process involves adopting the formal rules of the new context, especially those about the residence and work permits. Thus, transnational networks and geographical mobilities allow migrants to exploit the grey areas of various formal systems that come to contact in making a living.
Ignacio Fradejas-García, José Luis Molina, Miranda Jessica Lubbers
Restaurant Backyards, Food Stores, and Temples: Invisibility, Informal Labour Practices, and Migrant Networks in the Suburbs of Warsaw
In the recent years, Poland has emerged as an attractive migration destination and has witnessed a substantial growth of the migrant population, especially coming from Asian countries. This has been especially visible in the urban and suburban areas around big cities. The chapter discusses the visible shift to diversity in the character of a suburban neighbourhood of Warsaw, and tries to uncover what it means for the different migrant groups in terms of access to the labour market, the formal and informal practices they engage in, and the role it plays in the migrant imaginary of post-socialist Poland. Thus, we take a closer look at migrant networks that are the basis of migrant life in Poland and allow them to legalize their stay, find employment, and build a safe environment for themselves. Not being part of the Polish informal networks leaves migrants unable to use the local strategy of “załatwianie” (getting things done”), and thus not integrated into the official labour market. We argue that using informal migrant networks in order to cope with everyday life in a foreign country is a substitute to the local practice of “getting things done”. Thus, we analyse how migrants, excluded linguistically and socially from the Polish labour market, are also being pushed into ethnic niches. These businesses are concentrated in the food and beauty sector. The last strategy we describe is entering the grey zone economics through undeclared or half-legal work.
Karolina Bielenin-Lenczowska, Helena Patzer
Informal Networks Among Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Case of Croatia
This chapter investigates networking activities among ethnic entrepreneurs in Croatia, a former socialist economy with low rates of immigrants and an increasing emigration wave. Moreover, this study looks at the ways ethnic entrepreneurs use different network types to access different resources. Croatia has faced turbulent transitional environment and despite recent improvements, institutional framework is still not stimulating for entrepreneurs. Besides usual barriers for entrepreneurs, immigrant entrepreneurs face additional formal and informal barriers. Some of these are partly solved or diminished by using informal networks. Despite that fact, the informal networks are still underresearched in Southeastern Europe. There are several takeaways from this study. First, the informal networks appear to serve as substitutes to missing or insufficiently efficient institutions of the formal networks aimed at foreigners’ needs, entrepreneurs in this case. Second, the conclusion focuses on the role of the ‘extension’ of the expat groups that the ethnic entrepreneurs consider vital for their business establishment and development, but for their private life as well. These are mostly Croatian citizens, fluent in English, who are recognised as reliable local partners. Still, the general population in Croatia is relatively slow in integrating foreigners. Finally, in their informal networks, the ethnic entrepreneurs are used to in-group cooperation and support. That shall be utilised in further initiatives targeting them, particularly in mentoring and training programmes. This research contributes to the literature on informal networks of ethnic entrepreneurs in post-socialist European countries, more specifically in SEE countries with similar legacy and similar EU trajectory. Despite reliance on the most recent primary data from Croatia, this study shall have broader resonance for other (post-socialist) countries sharing similar development and migration-related pattern.
Ružica Šimić Banović, Vlatka Škokić, Mirela Alpeza
“Performance of Illegality” Toward Migrants Living with HIV in Russia: From Social Exclusion to Deportation
In this article, I try to analyze the place of undocumented migrants in the society and national economy of modern Russia. Based on life stories of migrants living with HIV in Russia I try to reflect on their vulnerabilities and routine practices of the state to control and maintain an untransparent and ostentatious migration policy toward undocumented migrants. What is the rationale behind this “performance of illegality” the government seems to be producing? I reflect on these questions in relation to migrants’ access to social entitlements and the biopolitics of the state in state management of migration on the example of the state policy of the Russian Federation toward international migrants living with HIV—a mobile population residing in a constructed limbo and a legal uncertainty. By exploring the lived experiences of this population in I am trying to think of a rationale behind the status quo of the Russian migration policy.
Daniel Kashnitsky


Institutions and the Informal Economy: Tax Morale of Small Businesses in Armenia and Georgia
Georgia is said to be one of the countries with the largest informal economies in the world. This is despite the fact that the country is one of the top reformers among the countries of the former Soviet Union in terms of democratization and marketization. Its neighbour Armenia, on the other hand, has been slow with reforms and today remains a more authoritarian country with a less competitive private sector. This chapter seeks to find out whether the difference in the size of the informal economy between the two countries can be attributed to discrepancies between formal and informal institutions. Both quantitative and qualitative secondary data are used to determine the levels of tax morale of small businesses as an expression of diverging formal and informal institutions. The empirical evidence shows larger discrepancies between formal and informal institutions for Armenian than for Georgian entrepreneurs and thus rules out the institutional incongruence hypothesis as a possible explanation for the differences in the size of the informal sectors.
Johanna Paquin
Left in the ‘Shadows’: The Informal Moral Economy of the Russian Far East
Research into private businesses in post-Soviet Russia began with the collapse of the Soviet Union. This paper focuses on a specific segment of private entrepreneurs—semi-informal SME—and revises the concept of a ‘new entrepreneurship’ in Russia. The persons under study who entered into business were not always motivated by economic gain. Morality and loyalty play an important role in the modus operandi of such enterprises. In their activities, entrepreneurs are led by local social norms that often do not support the earning of direct profit. This attitude contradicts the dominant approach in academic writing, where private entrepreneurs in post-Socialist countries see entrepreneurship as a new perspective and an act of self-fulfilment. The strategy of the entrepreneurs under study is also oriented against constant expansion and innovation. Such practices are caused by the current economic climate in Russia, where the state shows little interest in the activities of small and medium-sized entrepreneurs. This article suggests that there is a need for new conceptual tools to analyse these facets of the private economy.
Aimar Ventsel
Azerbaijani Meykhana: Cultural Policy and Local Actors’ Agenda
Meykhana is spoken word improvization, verbal recitatives, and an example of a musical genre in the promotion of which the state and society find their common goals. Based on the results of field research, and available sources, I pay attention to the relationship between what is offered by the government and how meykhana is practiced and perceived by ordinary people. Taking into account everyday practices of local players and using such an aspect of nationalism as folklorization, I examine how the interplay between formal and informal approaches can be used in the study of national building process. This paper contributes a case study to the rich body of literature on political dimension of informality and nationalism by analyzing the ways in which local players have concrete impact on top-level politics, including cultural policy.
Aneta Strzemżalska
Political vs. Everyday Forms of Governance in Uzbekistan: The Illegal, Immoral, and Illegitimate
Based on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Uzbekistan, this article looks at the way official state narratives are challenged by silent, unorganized, often unawares, gestures of resistance at the bottom of a society. Footing on a framework suggested by Scott’s definition of infrapolitics (2012), we propose to incorporate informal practices in a definition of informality that is more inclusive, and better explains the anatomy of a modern state, whose functioning rests on a combination of formal and informal practices. We suggest that this everyday dimension is of particular importance here when trying to understand the governance trajectories as it allows to look critically, and from a broader perspective, at situations where individual and state perception of events, but also individual and state morality, diverge. By doing this, we propose that governance in transition states and societies may be regarded as a space where formal institutions and citizens (or informal institutions) compete for power and resources and thereby produce informal, alternative “legal orders” and mechanisms that regulate public life in a given area. We will suggest that such a space of informal negotiation is vital in contexts where collective mobilization and public articulation of social claims is not a preferred, or even available, strategy for citizens.
Abel Polese, Rustamjon Urinboyev, Mans Svensson, Laura Adams, Tanel Kerikmäe


Mixed Perceptions of State Responsibility Among Informal Sector Participants in MENA
Informality is growingly accepted to be an encompassing concept touching on all aspects of societies and how they are governed, which goes well beyond the contours of economic transactions.
Anil Duman
State Collusion or Erosion During a Sovereign Debt Crisis: Market Dynamics Spawn Informal Practices in Lebanon
This chapter contributes to an understanding of the role of Lebanese political elites in molding state institutions and distorting Lebanon’s public finances, which severely skew Lebanese citizens’ attitude toward informal economic practices as Lebanon plunged into a sovereign debt crisis in 2020. While it faults elites for nurturing an unsustainable political-economic model that builds on state debt, harms the balance of payments, and structures the economy around unproductive sectors that benefit a privileged few, it gages the impact of these institutional shifts on citizens’ embracement of informality. It finds that central bank restrictions on citizens’ access to their U.S. Dollar bank deposits, coupled with monetary dislocations that create multiple currency exchange rates on the market, spawn a set of informal economic practices. It reveals that citizens’ adoption of this informality helps them salvage part of their frozen assets, challenge state regulations of the market and national currency as a larger volume of business activity now occurs outside formal channels, and, quite significantly, contest the political-economic model undergirding Lebanon’s sectarian system. In so doing, citizens’ espousal of informality helps them implicitly negotiate a new social contract with the state and Lebanese elites by shifting the old economic model that underpinned this dominant sectarian system.
Joseph P. Helou
Perceived Pull and Push Factors of Healthcare Professionals Intention for Mobility: The Case of Romania
Recent statistics show that over 43,000 Romanian health professionals left the country in the quest for a better life during the last 25 years, nearly half of them being medical doctors. With 130 physicians/100,000 inhabitants, in 2013 Romania ranked the lowest in Europe concerning the number of doctors per capita, and the deficit steadily increased every year. In order to bring an informed perspective on this problematic phenomenon, the paper aims to investigate upon the main reason behind the health professionals’ decision to leave the country. To this purpose, we applied a survey on a sample of health professionals, and explore a number of potential explanatory factors acting like potential drivers: payment, working conditions, informal practices, etc. These were partially adapted from a study on emigration preferences for Romanian medical students (Suciu et al. 2017). The results were then correlated with the overall satisfaction the participants feel for their workplace, pointing to different explanatory layers for what may drive a medical doctor or a nurse to leave the country versus what impacts their professional satisfaction. Age, gender, the length of current employment, and other relevant variables served as control variables.
Elena Druică, Rodica Ianole-Călin
E-nformality: Smartphones as a New Regulatory Space for Informal Exchange of Formal Resources
Our paper looks at e-nformality as the bodily and spatial relationship between people and the state and various services changes, available online, and now people from teachers to doctors can be contacted via WhatsApp if you have the right relations, when earlier it used to be phone calls or knocking doors. Besides, it illustrates how the above relationship become more visible for people and also for researchers as new semi-public and informal spaces emerge in the multiple WhatsApp groups which seem to surpass Diesel and other online platforms from old-school times (odnoklassniki). Furthermore, we trace here these informal networks in order to better understand how informal access to public resources works along inter-generational dynamics (elderly people, intergenerational solidarity, gendered division of responsibilities and support), and to better understand how it works through lateral support (exchange of services) networks, involving groupmates (odnoklassniki) and other social networks, especially in the context when the state institutions are weak.
Aksana Ismailbekova, Gulzat Baialieva
Work, Subsistence and Distress of the Homeless in Moldova
Building on biographical records of 810 Shelter users and interviews conducted with 70 homeless and vulnerable persons and 20 professionals in the area of social protection, this paper examines the employment situation of homeless people in Moldova in the context of the post-Soviet transformation. The paper maintains that most homeless people are excluded from the formal sector of the labour market. Therefore, they are engaged in various informal economic activities which help them survive and integrate them in informal support networks. Drawing on neo-Marxist and Honneth’s social recognition theories, the article argues that informal work in which homeless people are involved reduces the ability of employees to control the labour process and their autonomy to the employer. Thus, the informal labour activities further reproduce the precarious social status of the homeless person and perpetuate her social and economic vulnerability.
Petru Negură
Informality, Labour Mobility and Precariousness
Abel Polese
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