Walking the tight rope

Informal Livelihoods and Social Networks
in a West African City

by Ilda Lourenço-Lindell

This book has received the award for Best doctoral thesis of 2001/02 in Social Sciences at Stockholm University by the Högskoleföreningen
“The dissertation constitutes an important contribution to social science research and debate. It is an ambitious attempt to link micro and macro by describing and analyzing the informal economy in an African city in relation to historical developments and current socioeconomic change. It is marked by a mature theoretical understanding and problematizes and develops concepts, making it useful for other fields in the social sciences.”
(Högskoleföreningen in Stockholm)

“The theoretical perspective used in the analysis enriches the description of reality, which in its turn sheds light on, as well as shapes, the theory. Through down-to-earth fieldwork, the author has developed a close understanding of the so-called informal sector in society and economy. She shows that this sector can be (...) even harder to survive in than is often assumed.”
(Lars Rudebeck, Uppsala University)

Trends towards 'informalization' are looming large in the world today. African cities have long been characterised by the presence of an 'informal sector' but are now experiencing new waves of 'informalization'. Policies of liberalisation and structural adjustment are both changing the conditions under which urban dwellers make a living and encouraging states to abdicate from responsibilities for popular welfare. In this context, urbanites increasingly rely on informal ways of income earning and of social security provisioning.

This book is about processes of 'informalization' in the West African city of Bissau in Guinea-Bissau. It begins with a historical account of the way conditions of informality have evolved through the encounter of locally specific forms of informal relations with colonialism and the socialist era. This is followed by an analysis of how disadvantaged groups who rely on informal ways of provisioning are faring in the context of contemporary changes. The study looks at both the informal income-generating activities and the social networks that urbanites engage in to sustain their income activities and their consumption. It seeks to assess whether these groups are coping with these wider changes or are becoming marginalised from networks of assistance and from activities that provide sufficient incomes. The social relations pervading access to support and livelihood resources as well as the informal rules governing such access are in focus. Forms of regulation in the informal sphere are also discussed.

Table of contents

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