n Journal of Contemporary Management - Mapping the conceptual contours of the informal economic sector

Volume 10, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1815-7440



The informal economies of the developing world are acquiring ever greater salience for researchers and policy-makers. This is borne out by a recent resurgence of interest in these clusters of economic activity which thrive 'below the radar screen' of officialdom. This article provides a description of the informal sector and uncovers its origins in the 'scholarly imaginary'. The article argues that economic formalisation is inextricably bound up with the processes of modernisation and that formalisation can be subsumed under the rubric of 'statecraft'. Although the informal is logically prior to the formal, once formality has been institutionalised it depends on de facto informal practices for it to function optimally. There is some disagreement amongst scholars about the suitability of the 'informal' epithet and many alternative labels are used. The differing theoretical understandings of the informal sector in the literature are examined before focussing on some of the semantic and conceptual distinctions which inform the current discourse. Four primary categories of research questions are then posited and these are disaggregated to reflect the most urgent issue-areas confronting those bureaucrats, businessmen and researchers who wish to come to terms with the phenomenon of informal economies in today's world.

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