Conference presentations

The conference was organized into ten sessions (view agenda here). Prior to each session, participating scholars prepared notes on the session topic. During the session, some of the scholars gave visual presentations. Notes and presentations from each session can be accessed below. Continue to check back on this page as more notes and presentations become available.  

Session 1 - Informal Economy Revisited

To open the conference, two well-known scholars, political economist Barbara Harriss White and sociologist Jan Breman, were asked to speak about the evolution of theory and research on the informal economy in their disciplines and in their own work. 

Informality as the Bane of the Laboring Poor Under Globalized Capitalism (Jan Breman, University of Amsterdam)

Pointing Forwards and Backwards: WIEGO and Research (Barbara Harriss-White, Oxford University)

Session 2 - Informal Employment 

This session highlighted work that has been done to improve labour force statistics and grounded field research on the informal workforce. 

Advances in Statistics: Overview (Joann Vanek, WIEGO)

First, WIEGO Statistics Programme Director Joann Vanek spoke about advancements made in improving statistical definitions and measures of informal employment, including specific groups of informal workers. 

Informal Employment Across Developed and Developing Countries: Progress in International Statistics (Françoise Carré, University of Massachusetts Boston & WIEGO)

WIEGO Research Coordinator Françoise Carré spoke about current efforts to expand the International Classification of Status in Employment to include a new category called “Dependent Contractor” (which would include homeworkers) and to integrate indicators of informal employment in labor force statistics in developed countries.

Application of Definitions and Methods in Mexico (Rodrigo Negrete, INEGI)

Research economist Rodrigo Negrete, of Mexico’s Institute of Statistics and Geography (INEGI), shared advances made in Mexico in methods for measuring informal employment, and explained how these measures have been used in economic and social planning. 

WIEGO Research on Informal Employment: Key Methods, Indicators and Findings (Martha Chen, Harvard University and WIEGO)

Finally, WIEGO International Coordinator Marty Chen spoke about advancements WIEGO has made in research on the urban informal economy, including field research methods and key indicators used. She also highlighted key research findings in this area. 

Session 3 – Informal Employment, Labor Law and the Challenge of Enforcement

This session focused on some of the conceptual challenges for labour law, with an emphasis on work in the global south. 

Incorporating Informal Work and Implications for the Employment Contract and Collective Bargaining (Judy Fudge, Kent Law School)

First, legal scholar Judy Fudge outlined the debates in labour law scholarship on the incorporation of informal work into labour law, while also providing her own views on the topic. 

Enforcement of Labour Standards/Rights in Developing Countries: challenges and Solutions (Michael Piore, Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

Political economist Michael Piore presented on different systems of labour standard enforcement for factory workers and sub-contracted workers. He also drew on his own work in Morocco, France and the Dominican Republic to explore the potential of different systems to extend protections to informal, subcontracted labour. 

Compliance with Decent Work for Domestic Workers as a Transgression to the Asymetrical Law of the Home Workplace (Adelle Blackett, McGill Law School)

Legal scholar Adelle Blackett discussed current trends in extending enforcement systems to cover domestic workers in both developed and developing countries. She also outlined a set of research questions for thinking about enforcement in the domestic work sector. 

Session 4 – Informality and Economics

Recent evidence has prompted the need for a fundamental re-thinking about the role of the informal economy in modern labour markets and economies. This session aimed to distill some of the key lessons from the economics literature with a view to recasting both macro and micro theory in order to take account of the persistence and resilience of the informal economy alongside economic growth, and the heterogeneity of the informal economy. 

Old and New Forms of Informal Labour  (Uma Rani, International Labour Organization) 

First, ILO Senior Economist Uma Rani spoke about trajectories of new and old forms of informal employment in the Global South and in the Global North, and what factors seem to be driving these. 

Informality and the Dynamics of the Structure of Employment (James Heintz, University of Massachusetts Amherst)

Economist James Heintz outlined different types of informal employment that exist in countries with different states of macroeconomic development, and described how these patterns challenge mainstream economic thinking. 

Informality, Regulation & Taxation (Ravi Kanbur, Cornell University & WIEGO Board)

Economist Ravi Kanbur spoke about the need to modify the standard assumption that informal operators are evading regulations and taxation to better reflect the realities of informal operators and enterprises. 

(Re)conceptualizing poverty and informal employment (Mike Rogan, Rhodes University and WIEGO)

WIEGO Research Associate Mike Rogan discussed measurement and conceptualization of the contributions of informal employment, and how these can lead to improvement in development outcomes and advance our understanding of informal labour markets.  

Session 5 - Informality and Urban Planning and Design

Little attention within the field of urban studies has been to informal livelihoods – and yet more than half of the urban workforce in most developing countries is informally employed.  This session aimed to explore whether the conceptual tools and frameworks developed by urban studies in response to informal settlements apply equally well to informal livelihoods. In addition, presenters spoke to key urban planning trends in the contexts they know best, shared good practice examples of the integration of informal livelihoods into planning and zoning processes, and outlined new approaches to urban planning and design that would better integrate the needs of the urban working poor. 

Urban Design: Beyond Architecture at Scale (Rahul Mehrotra, Harvard Graduate School of Design)

First, Rahul Mehrotra presented on informal livelihoods, urban design and planning, drawing on his work in Mumbai, India. 

Informal Housing and Work: The View from Indian Cities (Gautam Bhan, Indian Institute for Human Settlements)

Gautum Bhan of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements spoke about informal settlements as places of work and sites of activist practice. 

Informality and Urban Planning in Africa (Caroline Skinner, University of Cape Town & WIEGO;  Vanessa Watson, University of Cape Town)

Finally, WIEGO Urban Policies Programme Director and Proessor of City Planning Vanesss Watson presented on informality and urban planning in Africa.

Session 6 – Waste Pickers: Forging a New Conceptualization of “The Public” in Waste Management

This session aimed to discuss some concepts and models under which waste pickers have been analyzed that are most promising in terms of contributing to a paradigm change which enables a new conceptualization of “public” in solid waste management.

The Political Work of Waste Picker ‘Integration’ (Melanie Samson, Witwatersrand University)

Geographer Melanie Samson spoke about the theorization of waste picker integration into waste management systems, and outlined necessary conditions for transformative change towards more inclusive solid waste management. 

Managing Urban Waste as Common Pool Resources (Jérémie Cavé. Sciences Po, Toulouse & Urbanalyse Consultancy)

Urban Ecologist Jérémie Cavé explored the debate about waste as a public good or an urban commons.

Waste Pickers: Forging a New Conceptualization of “The Public” in Waste Management (Lucia Fernandez, WIEGO)

WIEGO Waste Picker Specialist Lucia Fernandez spoke about the “right to the city” framework, exploring whether it is a useful one for the analysis of waste pickers’ struggles.

Session 7 - Street Vendors: Politics and Possibilities for Inclusion

In this session speakers were encouraged to interrogate the underlying conceptual frameworks used to understand the issues/areas that have critical implications for street trading livelihoods, namely: regulation, planning, urban design and theories about street vendors. They were asked to explore these issues with a view to informing future research and enhancing the possibilities of inclusion.  

Urban Paradigms and Street Vending: A Global View (Sally Roever, WIEGO)

WIEGO Incoming International Coordinator Sally Roever spoke about urban paradigms and legal frameworks that inform the regulation of street trading, and the ways in which these should be modified to better match street vending realities. 

Street Vendors & Planning Paradigms (Amin Kamete, University of Glasgow)

Urban studies scholar Amin Kamete explored the question of how urban planning and design theories and approaches should be modified to better integrate street vendors into urban plans and landscapes. 

Street Vending: Politics and Possibilities for Inclusion Street Vendors & Engagement with the State (Veronica Crossa, University College Dublin)

Urban studies scholar Veronica Crossa discussed existing theories about the relationship between street vendors and the state with a focus on Latin America. She proposed what research is needed to inform a rethinking of these theories. 

Session 8 - Homeworkers in Global Value Chains

This session was concerned with analyzing the contractual relationships among factories, contractors/subcontractors and homeworkers, understanding the procurement practices of the multinational enterprises, and thinking through governance of supply chains that have potential to include all workers, including homeworkers. 

Extending Good Labor Practices to Workers at the Base of Global Value Chains New Institutions in the Labor Market (Meenu Tewari, University of North Carolina)

Development studies scholar Meenu Tewari discussed the evolution of value chain research and analysis, with an emphasis on garment and textile perspectives. 

Including Homeworkers: Lessons from India (Kamala Sankaran, Delhi University & Tamil Nadu National Law School)

Legal scholar Kamala Shankaran explored approaches for holding firms accountable for labour rights of homeworkers in their supply chains, while preventing bans on homework. 

Regulating Global Value Chains to Realize Labor Rights for Homeworkers (Marlese von Broembsen, Harvard Law School & WIEGO)

WIEGO Law Programme Director Marlese Von Broembsen discussed a range of responses to the governance of global supply chains, with a specific focus on those with the potential to extend labour rights to homeworkers. 

Session 9 - Informal Workers and the State

In this session speakers discussed key advances in theory and research in regard to informal workers’ engagement with the state. They also outlined what they see as remaining key theoretical challenges/dilemmas and research gaps in regard to informal workers and state relations going forward. 

Waste & Citizenship Forum: Waste Pickers and the State (Sonia Dias, WIEGO)

Based on her work on waste pickers in Brazil, WIEGO Waste Picker Sector Specialist Sonia Dias discussed whether existing theories about participatory democracy and civic engagement reflect the efforts of organizations of informal workers to engage with the national or sub-national state.  

Domestic workers, informal construction workers, and the state...and almost everything else (Chris Tilly, University of California Los Angeles)

Based on his work with domestic workers and day laborers, Chris Tilly spoke about informal workers’ engagement with the state, including which findings have challenged theories about power and engagement. 

Informal Workers & the Indian State (Rina Agarwala, Johns Hopkins University)

Sociologist Rina Agarwala addressed her work on how informal worker organizations, and other social movements, have made claims on Indian states, and how different state governments have engaged with their demands. 

Informal Workers & the African State (Kate Meagher, London School of Economics)

Development studies scholar Kate Meagher shared some of her work on comparative analyses of types of informal economies across African states. Drawing from this work, she outlined recent trends to watch regarding the relationship between the informal economy and the state in the African context. 

Session 10 - Informal Workers and Social Policy

This session addressed the conceptual challenges and questions relating to how to finance and deliver social services in a world where informal employment is increasingly the norm.  

The Place of Informal Workers and the Informal Economy in Approaches to Social Protection (Francie Lund, ex-University of KwaZulu Natal & WIEGO)

Francie Lund, WIEGO’s first Social Protection Programme Director, described the origins of the programme, and the ways in which the programme broke with conventional social policy. She described changes in the area of social policy and informality since the genesis of the programme. 

Adding Methodological Thickness to the Study of Social Policy & Informal Workers in the Development Context: Relational Approaches & Adverse Incorporation (Laura Alfers, Rhodes University & WIEGO)

WIEGO Social Protection Programme Director Laura Alfers spoke about the future of the programme, and the study of social policy more generally. 

Informal Work in a Context of Urbanization & Migration: Reflections on Future Social Policy Debates in Asia (Sarah Cook, UNICEF)

Sarah Cooke shared from her experience working in the Asian region with social policy and the labour market, and addressed, among other things, how rapid urbanization and migration in the region might impact on social policy needs and financing for informal workers. 

Delinking and Rethinking Social Protection for Women in Informal Employment: Perspectives from Latin America (Silke Staab, UN Women)

Silke Staab spoke about the Latin American approach to social policy and outlined lessons that this approach holds for extending protections to informal workers.  

Informality and Development Revisited: Summary of Key Points by Session Chairs

Access presentation on key points from all sessions

Informal Economy Topic