Mercados, Cholas, y Ferias: Challenging the Discourse of Informality in the Bolivian Andes
Soliz Castro, Claudia Ines
Langer, Erick D
The informal economy is a widely debated issue in Latin America due to its high presence in the region. While transnational policy making institutions (TPMIs), like the International Labor Organization (ILO), expected a reduction in this presence as a result of the economic boom of the 2000s, recent data has shown that there has been little to no improvement. This evidence has opened up a series of challenges to the way in which informality is understood in the region. Using the case of street markets in Bolivia, one of the countries with highest percentage of informality in Latin America, the present paper examines how the reproduction of informal practices in Bolivia challenge the informality discourse set forward by policy influencing institutions like the ILO. Based on evidence from fieldwork conducted over a three-month period in the cities of La Paz and El Alto, this study finds that the understanding set by TPMIs is incomplete at best. The findings show that historical processes, racial practices and notions, and the voices of informal vendors themselves are integral to understanding how informality works and operates. Moreover, it shows the limitations of the formal/informal discourse adding to recent literature developments on the need to re-conceptualize the informal economy as it’s understood today.
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