Post-capitalism or post-modern capitalism? The formal-informal dialectics of contemporary labour

by Lukas Meisner

(L. Meisner is a PhD Student between the ERC project EarlyModernCosmology (Horizon 2020, GA: 725883), section Political Epistemology, Università Ca' Foscari Venezia, and the Max Weber Centre for Advanced Cultural and Social Studies, Universität Erfurt.)

Today, the informal economy is crucial not only because the reproduction of economic production is (and has been for centuries) relying on it, but because the majority of the workforce works outside of formal employment. My central argument in the following is that the informal economy cannot be isolated from the global tendencies of the broader political-economic system(s) one could call postmodern capitalism. To approach an understanding of such capitalism, the notion “informal economy” is of decisive relevance, since it evinces that postmodern capitalism is less immaterial than identitarian, meaning that within it, coercion and consent unite as the “dull compulsion of economic relations” (Marx 2013, 765)1 and the trickling down of ideologies – which are both mediated first and foremost through hybrid markets. Thus, preferring a “capitalocentric” (Gibson-Graham and Cameron 2003, 152) “bias against markets” (Hart 1986, 649) over an idealisation of markets’ postmodern condition, I articulate a critique of postmodern capitalism and a problematisation of some of its theorists. In doing so, I demonstrate not only the importance of informality as a fact, but also as a notion especially for any critically engaged academia, including economic anthropology. After having clarified what may be understood as the informal economy, I will thus draw on ethnographies (with two in focus) to outline why informality is of prime relevance to critically grasp the contemporary world – within which micro- and macro-levels cannot be easily disassociated from each other.

What is the informal economy and why is it relevant?

A romantic picture of the informal economy stages it as outside of official institutions’ control – outside of the sphere of banks and their credit policies, of states and their taxation pursuits, of economics departments and their mathematised world of statistics. Less romantically addressed, informal workers are not protected by any securities a state or a union can grant; nor are they organised in any other way to defend their rights against the interests of capital. How can informality be defined, then?

Broadly defined, the informal economy includes household work2, and is thus conditional for the informal reproduction of formal producers caught in the formal-informal dialectics of capitalism (Meillassoux 19753). More narrowly defined, as it was done when the term was coined (cf. Hart 1973), informal workers are those that work mainly illegally and/ or self-employed. Such informal work gets – up to today, and meanwhile in the West, too – people, whether they have a formal job or not, the cash which they rely on to survive (and sometimes to live a bit more decent). This is possible because informal flows of cash are not depending on large sums of capital, skill or economic planning, but on non-permanent, flexible and irregular activities. These may be done “day and night” (Breman 2009, 3) “at home, in sweatshops”, in the factories next to regular labour or “in the open air” (ibid., 1). Apart from such minimal definitions, the informal economy is not formaliseable, and thus cannot be exhaustively defined in theory either. Practices that belong to the informal economy (as the notion will be used here) comprise

  • casual jobs, moonlighting, subcontracting and outsourcing

  • housework including farming (the latter mentioned by Hart 1973, 70)

  • small-scale distribution (petty trade) and informal exchanges like theft, “income flows between kin” (ibid., 74), gift-giving, begging, smuggling, gambling, bargaining, dealing and bribing

  • activities of “protection rackets” (Hart 1973, 69) on the one hand and diverse “support networks” (Mollona 2005, 540) on the other.

Despite the problems regarding definition, it should be clear that the informal economy is a or perhaps the relevant economic notion nowadays, since it

comprises more than half of the global labour force and more than 90% of Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs) worldwide. Informality is an important characteristic of labour markets in the world with millions of economic units operating and hundreds of millions of workers pursuing their livelihoods in conditions of informality.“4

The question why the notion is as relevant as it is, however, asks what the background to such characteristics is. I argue that this background is filled quite comprehensively with a postmodern capitalism that forces people planet-wide into the multi-faceted networks mainly of “small-scale capitalism and informal entrepreneurship” (Mollona 2005, 530). In the global South, individuals were and are economically coerced into informality, f.e. as a non-accumulating survival strategy, or as a middleman-work for transnational companies (the latter especially in the case of clan, community and family heads, politicians and bureaucrats). The North, meanwhile, has lived through decades of neoliberal policies ranging from de-industrialisation and the flexibilisation of the labour markets over the smashing of unions and the deconstruction of the welfare state (of unemployment benefits and safety regulations, pensions as well as child, health and elderly care) to extensive debt policies (cf. Lazzarato 2012; 2015). As a result, many workers in the global North have no other choice but to supplement their formal incomes informally and often illegally.

Therefore, what I argue for over the next pages is that we are living in a postmodern version of capitalism rather than in any kind of “post-capitalism” (Gibson-Graham 2006; Mason 2015). Whereas it is nothing new to feminist economic anthropologists that the reproduction of the production and thus of the accumulation cycle of capital lies outside of waged labour (cf. Mackenzie and Rose 1983), the interpretation of such reproductive and other informal work as “post”-capitalist could and perhaps should be news to such feminists – especially to those drawing on theories that emerged before the postmodern turn (Lyotard 1979; Eagleton 1996; 2003). It perhaps should be news because mere postmodern “re-thinking” (Gibson-Graham 2014) of modern categories risks doing nothing but to change the ideas we have of the world instead of changing this world itself.5 Arguably, it remains necessary for any critical contemporary anthropological assessment to stress that most humans and many non-humans are not only still, but increasingly forced to live in a global postmodern capitalism that is in itself oscillating between hegemonic and despotic, central and peripheral, con-sensical and openly violent modes (Burawoy 1985). As such, it is self-constituting as the constant synthesis of an “internal dialectic” (Mollona 2005, 531) of its own antitheses. Since “consent and coercion are dialectical terms to be studied both in the realm of production and in the realm of reproduction and at the micro- and macro-economic level” (ibid., 543-544), allegedly “post-capitalist” aspects should – rather than being celebrated as “stories of everyday revolution” (Gibson-Graham, 2014, p. 147) – be grasped as (innovations of the) productive forces within and of postmodernised capitalism.

In the next pages I will, with the help of ethnographies and their descriptions of informality, validate these reflections. The aim is to get to a more profound understanding of postmodern capitalism in order to grasp, in turn, why the informal economy is as crucial as it is today. This goes beyond mere academic reasoning. If we want to be “opening up a myriad of ethical debates […] about the kinds of worlds we as feminists would like to build” (Gibson-Graham and Cameron 2003, 153 f.), we need to be aware first and foremost of what is constantly closing such worlds and horizons with all their windows of opportunities – by synthesising different, even contradictory forms of power. For this reason, a critical reading of the way informality is described in some studies and theories must be delivered first.

Informal labour and entrepreneurial romanticism in the 1970s and today: Keith Hart in Ghana

Keith Hart’s seminal text on the informal economy relies on a fieldwork conducted by him between 1965 and 1968 in the City of Accra in Southern Ghana, especially within its northern outskirts’ slum centre Nima, and with special consideration of the sub-proletariat and the Northern Ghanaian “Frafra” migrants (cf. Hart 1973, 61 ff.). Back then and there, the real incomes of urban wage-earners were decreasing (cf. ibid., 64) – not least due to “the [policy] goal of maximising employment opportunities through keeping down the wages of those who are already employed” (83). As a result, formal labour income couldn’t ensure survival, particularly not that of families. To deal with the “lot” of “high living costs and low wages”, creating a “supplementary income source” (65) became necessary, mainly by “emulating the role of the small-scale entrepreneur” (67).

Hart points out that although these “unorganised workers” played (and play) an “important part […] in supplying many of the essential services on which life in the city is dependent” (68), and although informal work was (and is) crucial for individuals as well as for whole economies, the employment statistics of “economists”6 “equate significant economic activity with what is measured” (84) – which, effectively, censors not only informal work but also the rural and regional sector from official accounts.7 Against this, Hart demands to incorporate the informal sector into economic thought in order to deal not only with abstract economists’ interests but also with poverty as well as with informal opportunities of survival which both transgress the boundaries of classical economics and its taboos. As a result, for example, “[u]rban crime may then be seen as a redistribution of wealth” (86). With such proposals, Hart’s 1973 article is critical of the orthodoxy at the time, namely of Keynesianism and its complete reliance on wage-labour and on full employment; he is critical of it, firstly, because having one job does not equate to being able to ensure survival on its wage (cf. 83); and, secondly, because “income levels” are, from the perspective of the people, “more relevant than the definition of underemployment” (84).

Today, after some decades of neoliberal orthodoxy, Hart’s theses are widely accepted. Without doubt, the informal economy has an “autonomous capacity for growth” (87), and indeed, “Accra is not unique” (89). It is obvious that economic analysis in the 21st century needs informal labour as a notion, not only because “half of the urban labour force falls outside the organised labour market” (88) but because, nowadays, more than half of the global population does so. Moreover, it can no longer be denied that “[f]ormal and informal livelihoods not only coexist, but also directly constitute one another” (Bolt 2012, 127) – in neoliberal times as well as before and after.8 Yet, precisely for that reason, it seems to be questionable whether “celebrating the below-the-radar creativity of informal entrepreneurs” (ibid.) remains the task of a critically engaged anthropology. If it was and is true that

regular wage-employment, however badly paid, has some solid advantages [mainly reliability and predictability]; and hence men who derive substantial incomes from informal activities may still retain or desire formal employment” (Hart 1973, 78),

then informalisation must be seen more as a threat than as a chance to individuals and communities. In contrast, there is a certain praising tone of informality in Hart’s text, although he makes clear that “most urban workers”

would usually take a wage job, as long as it did not seriously limit the scope for continuing informal activities, on the grounds that the income provided is secure, i.e. fixed, regular, and relatively permanent.” (Ibid., 83, original emphasis.)

Nevertheless, instead of celebrating the “egalitarian philosophy of [former peasant] peoples” (87), Hart seems to celebrate “informal economic activity, associated with entrepreneurial creativity” (Bolt 2012, 114) – a celebration that comes close to a romanticism usually known from liberal-capitalist corners.9 Indeed, in Hart’s opinion, “enterprising worker[s]” (Hart 1973, 72) full of the “prospect of accumulation” (ibid., 88) have “scarcely less than infinite” (74) working opportunities (at least in 1973): “the range of opportunities outside the organised labour market is so wide that few of the ‘unemployed’ are totally without some form of income” (81).10 Yet, at least today, and without the romanticism of infinite possibilities to adventurous entrepreneurs, if anything, informal “survivalist strategies occasionally become means for modest accumulation” (Bolt 2012, 124). In good cases, supplementing wages with informal work may “establish predictable lives” (ibid., 119) for people that are “mutually dependent in their precariousness” (122). But even then, precariousness is the very base of informality: the “now ‘diversified’ economy offers only a few precarious positions” (Gibson-Graham 2014, 152). In short, the omnipresence of markets and of their self-marketing imperatives is less a blessing than a sign of precariousness, instability, scarcity, poverty and extreme vulnerability of individuals (cf. Breman 2009). As Maxim Bolt put it recently:

From one perspective, Grootplaas’s compound [a commercial farm at the Zimbabwean-South-African border] is full of businesspeople. But these various forms of work and exchange are all ways in which Grootplaas residents, surrounded by transience and uncertainty, reorient their practices to establish provisional stability.” (Bolt 2012, 127.)

Such instability, uncertainty and precarity cannot be understood without taking into account their global backgrounds. Neither were the residents of Accra in the 1970s, nor are those of Grootplaas today exceptional cases of informality, or isolated from the rest of the world. Indeed, with the global workforce being largely informalised, it seems that nowadays, rather than the “[m]ore optimistic liberals”, the socialists are those who are right in arguing “that foreign capitalistic dominance […] determines the scope for informal (and formal) development” (Hart 1973, 88 f.). Some of the ways in which formal-informal capitalist dominance works have been described by Massimiliano Mollona:

[G]lobal corporations outsource exploitative work to small-scale and family-owned firms rooted in local communities […] Global corporations co-opt high-caste individuals, community leaders, patriarchs or gang bosses into their production chains and these in turn, extract labour surplus from lower caste and community members.” (Mollona 2014, 196.)

[W]hen Teddy [a worker who supplements his wage informally in Sheffield] recruits cheap labour and disciplines his working mates during the weekly snooker tournaments he believes that he is increasing his leadership, entrepreneurship, and grip over the local economy. In fact, he is reproducing within the neighbourhood the managerial and organizational capitalist functions from the factory. In addition, Teddy’s patriarchal grip over the unpaid labour of the family reproduces his condition of exploited casual labourer in the steel industry.” (Mollona 2005, 544.)

In other words, even if the informal economy is “autonomous” (Hart 1973, 61, 87, 89), this can’t be easily equated with more autonomy for all the people. Rather, certain “bias against markets” (Hart 1986, 649) may be justified, yet not one in support of the state or of some economics departments and their orthodoxies  – but one in support of those in need. Such bias may be justified because although informal work doesn’t fit into Keynesian, Fordist or Taylorist schemes, it fits quite handsomely into the Toyotist precarising labour regime of today’s postmodern capitalism. Precisely for that reason – as I argue in the next paragraph with the help of another ethnography –, the informal economy has become as crucial as it is nowadays.

Postmodern capitalism and the trickle down of ideology: a factory without walls in Sheffield

Between 1999 and 2001, Massimiliano Mollona conducted fieldwork in Endcliffe, at the East End of Sheffield in the UK (cf. Mollona 2005, 546, footnote 1). Endcliffe is a classical industrial (steel) region whose labour market has become de-regulated and de-industrialised in the latest era of “despotic capitalism” (Burawoy 1985). The inhabitants have reacted to it

by pooling their incomes in extended and flexible households, embedding economic transactions in the social hierarchy of the neighbourhood, and mixing informal exchanges and production with the formal organization of the factory.” (Mollona 2005, 543.)

In short, the people of Endcliffe supplement more formal earnings with coexisting informal extra incomes – from illegal activities and subcontractions off-the-books to mutual exchanges and state benefits. Mollona thus analyses not only the conditions and relations in the tool-producing factory “Morris”, but also those within (transformed, this is extended) family relations and the general neighbourhood. All these are interlinked. For example, the pub “Khaled’s” serves not only as a discussion and negotiating platform, community centre and regional political basis (cf. ibid., 539) – where, amongst other things, the intra-workforce-division is ritualised (cf. 540, 544) –, but also as a local job centre (cf. 538). On the other hand, at the alleged “family business” (543) Morris, there is a “lack of visible authority” (533) because the owner is usually absent (due to his own informal ghost factory). The resulting “informal style of management” (534) splits the workforce into two: there are seven older skilled hot workers (forgers), and eleven younger un- and semiskilled cold workers doing mainly repetitive work. The hot workers act as petty-capitalists by

  • renting the means of production from the owner (cf. 537),

  • recruiting new labour,

  • self-organising factory labour, and

  • “complementing [their own] wage-work with informal economic activities” (528) whose most lucrative is the scrap trade (cf. 536).

In doing so, the skilled and older hot workers engender a patriarchal and nepotistic (cf. 532) style of ruling over “their” cold workers, apprentices (cf. 543), families and neighbourhood. The other half of labour at Morris is comprised of cold workers that are part of a flexible workforce which is completely subsumed under capital and fully relying on wages (cf. 537). In this way,

the informal economy of Morris fragments the workforce into a ‘core’ and a ‘periphery’ and hides their common subsumption to capital by incorporating relations of production in Morris into capitalist relations in the steel industry.” (538.)

In short, global relations of core and periphery are structurally reproduced on a micro-level, here in the North, not least via an informalisation that hides its own capitalist triggers. The example suggests that Burawoy’s (1985; Mollona 2005, 543) historic categories of “despotic” and “hegemonic” capitalism, in our times, are merging into one, namely into postmodern capitalism. In it, the coercive period called neoliberalism seems to rule as a hegemony not only in economics books and state policies, but also in the heads of many people: from entrepreneurship to self-exploitation, if nothing else, ideology is trickling down. Hence, “the role of the workers’ subjectivity in reproducing the interests of capital” (ibid.) must be highlighted. Arguably, there is no capitalism that is not coercive, and none that is not hegemonic at the same time; it is always both, not only today. People are usually “co-opted into production through an articulation of coercion and consent” (545), and even more so through the postmodern trend of informalisation:

when Teddy supervises the domestic economy and optimizes the productivity of his family, he is only acting as a representative of Mr Reed [the classic capitalist, the owner of Morris] and ensuring a cheap cost for the reproduction of the conditions of his production. In the eyes of his relatives, however, Teddy is the exploitative boss and the capitalist profiting from their labour.” (543.)11

Teddy, therefore, is a good example of ideology trickled down, of the merging of consent and coercion and especially of the micro-powers of the “politico-economy” (529) of postmodern capitalism. The point of this dynamic and fluctuating, informal capitalism is less that it immaterialises labour (Lazzarato 1996) than that it combines more “archaic” identitarian with today’s hyper-industrialised techno-regimes12:

post-modernity has materialized as a hybrid mixture of industrial wage-work and bonded labour, nuclear families and patriarchal ideologies of male productivity, mass production and cottage industry, mechanization and hard and wearing manual labour.” (546.)

This hybrid mixture of formality and informality can be metaphorised as a “factory without walls” (530; cf. Negri 1989), in which not only monads, Robinsons (cf. Marx 2013, 90) and other abstractions of “methodological individualism” (Milonakis and Fine 2009, 5) produce, reproduce and consume, but the general intellect (Virno 1996) as well as the general affect: the creative, inventing, spontaneous, informal capacity of communities, families, teams and swarms. Indeed, these “emotionally exploitative” conditions go hand in hand with “emotionally creative ones” (Gibson-Graham and Cameron 2003, 153). The factory without walls fabricates a global identity capitalism (cf. K. Meagher 2010; Mollona 2014, 196) based on informality “along”, f.e., moralistic, nepotistic, social, “gender and generational lines” (Mollona 2005, 544). In fact, the latter is a common feature of all informal economies, and had been so already back in the late 60s in Ghana: “The uneven distribution of economic opportunities between regional/ethnic groups of Ghana is striking.” (Hart 1973, 77.) Trapped in a system with the x coordinate “antagonism” and the y coordinate “collectivism”, “ethnic affiliation” and “informal social networks” (ibid.) combine with the necessity of working for survival in markets where all co-opt each other into coercion (cf. Mollona 2005, 543).

Mollona’s study in Sheffield can thus be read as an ethnography that delves into postmodern capitalism’s informal merging of community, family, factory, (semi-)public space (Khaled’s) and homes (tenants as petty-capitalists – cf. Mollona 2005, 542). For all of these parts at least also merge into the micro- and macro-realms of formal/informal markets and their highly profitable identity economies.

The notion of the informal economy: relevant to question “post-capitalism”

As the two ethnographic overviews and the accompanying texts have shown, “piecing together diverse labor practices – salaried labor, for example, with household-caring work, with services provided under the table” (Gibson-Graham 2014, 151) is done under the reality of capitalism, and not only performatively by postmodern theorists using the notion “post-capitalism” (Gibson-Graham 2006). This is, it is done by (postmodern) capitalism itself, whose most important process is one of informalisation. For “capitalism” is not restricted to wage labour but rather needs to be more openly categorised as a system that forces everyone for reasons of survival to identify at least partially with its own accumulating interests. Indeed, “different regimes of value” are thereby reduced to make “ends meet” on capitalist markets (Gibson-Graham 2014, 151). Whereas of course, capitalism is not everything, it is as all-encompassing as it is exactly because it valorises progressively its outsides on which it always depended. In this vein, it could be argued that instead of enlarging, in theory or practice, the “scope of the economic” (Gibson-Graham and Cameron 2003, 147), its realms of false necessity (cf. Marcuse 1965) need to be restricted, namely through political choice.13

Gibson-Graham’s postmodern model of post-capitalism seems to propose something different. Apparently, their “representational politics” (Gibson-Graham and Cameron 2003, 153) of a “performative ontology of economy” (Gibson-Graham 2014, 152) solely performs or acts as if the economy was already "different" and "diverse" – instead of highlighting that we must change and diversify it. Such affirmative postmodern politics that “collapse[s] the distinction between epistemology and ontology” (Gibson-Graham 2008; Gibson-Graham and Cameron 2003, 149) wants to liberate a “subordinate term” (ibid., 146) from a “capitalocentric” logic as discourse – which is not the same as liberating subordinate living beings from materially capitalist conditions. Gibson-Graham’s position thus may resemble a kind of postmodern idealism that idealises the status quo instead of pointing out how brutal, destructive, murderous and even “totalitarian” (cf. Gorz 2001; Kurz 2002; Amery 2002) it is.

Beyond such a strand, and following Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach, the point is not simply to rethink or think differently about the economy (thereby risking to give the given a more sophisticated discoursive mask or ideology), but to change it; not only to see more difference (cf. Gibson-Graham and Cameron 2003, 151) but to create it. For one doesn’t “abandon the structural imperatives and market machinations” by simply denying them, or by claiming that they are only existing in a “capitalocentric discourse” (ibid. 152). Instead, one only abandons them by overcoming capitalism which will not be done by merely claiming that it has already been overcome (“post-capitalism”). For sure, it is only by overcoming capitalism that one could free work and lay multiple foundations for more diverse economies. This is because as long as we live within capitalism, unpaid and informal work are not post-capitalist (cf. ibid.) but exploitative; similarly, reproductive work is not post-capitalist (cf. ibid.) but a necessity of capitalism’s own survival; and environmental enterprises are, rather than being post-capitalist (cf. ibid.), single drops in the bucket (cf. Klein 2014).

The “performing of post-capitalism”, then, may politically be a potentially dangerous concept, since it creates, to return to Burawoy and Gramsci, a form of (theoretical) consent in the midst of (material) coercion – thereby following the dialectics of postmodern capitalism. Consequently, the general celebration of informality as proto-post-capitalist or as a “counter” or “love economy” (see Gibson-Graham and Cameron 2003, 148) comes, like Hart in the 70s, close to neoliberal attitudes.14 Those attitudes, however, are usually held not by radical intellectuals but by institutions like the IMF, the World Bank or the Wall Street Journal (cf. Breman 2009, 1). Against them, and more critical of today’s postmodern version of capitalism, one could ask: “if capitalism always creates inequality, does it matter if it is local or foreign?” (Mollona 2014, 187.)15 And equally: does it matter if it is formal or informal, or whether it is done, say, by a capitalist or a family member?

In fact, as I tried to demonstrate, postmodern capitalism consists of both, waged and informal work, coercion and consensus/ ideology, the “mute force of economic relations” (Marx 2013, 765) and its partial internalisation by the exploited. Hence, whereas I am definitely with Gibson-Graham in their “commitment to an open future” (Gibson-Graham 2014, 149), I think such commitment is better served by critiques of the present than by an approach that ignores its larger contexts.


I argued that the informal economy is relevant not only because, today, more than half of the workforce work informally; and not only because capitalism’s own reproduction always relied on it; but because the current economic system can be metaphorised as a huge formal-informal factory without walls.

Arguing in this way, I have shown that the notion of informality is a crucial tool to any critical reflection on the contemporary world, and on its version of capitalism, which can be called postmodern. For today, there is not only a neoliberal “nexus of control by both state officials and employers” (Bolt 2012, 117, emphasis in the original), but an ideological nexus of (formal) multinationals and (informal) micro-powers, of (formal) capital and (informal) identities, of (formal) despotism and (informal) hegemony; in short, of formal-informal markets, states and societies.

In this sense, simply being for society and against the state (Clastres 1974) – as many anthropologists still seem to be – delivers, paradoxically16, a kind of neoliberal ideology when, “[i]n times of globalisation, financialisation, petty capitalism and regionalisation, economy and society tend to blur into each other” (Mollona 2014, 205, my emphasis). Equally, by being one-sidedly pro market and/ or pro community, and only against the state and some Western manifestations of institutions (cf. Hart 1986, 651), one is in danger of ideologising the postmodern version of capitalism’s very own formal-informal merging of markets, communities and institutions.

Instead, a critically engaged anthropology should question the reality of informality as a radical alternative if it does not want to serve the interests of the identitarian reign of asymmetrical short-cycled capital.17 Thus, it should neither “romanticize ‘traditional practices’” (Gibson-Graham 2014, 149), identities and communities, nor markets and entrepreneurship. Rather, it needs to problematise both “formal political authority” andnon-formal social authority” (Bolt 2012, 112, my italics), and especially that which holds these two together nowadays  – which is a postmodernised, “regionalising” version of global capitalism.


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Mollona, Massimiliano (2014) Informal Labour, Factory Labour or the End of Labour? Anthropological Reflections on Labour Value, pp. 181-207 in Atzeni, Maurizio (ed.) (2014) Workers and Labour in a Globalised Capitalism Contemporary Themes and Theoretical Issues, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Mollona, Massimiliano; De Neve, Geert (eds.) (2009) Anthropology of Work. A reader, London: Berg.

Negri, Antonio (1989) The Politics of Subversion: a manifesto for the 21st century, Cambridge: Polity Press.

Srnicek, Nick; Williams, Alex (2015) Inventing the Future, London and New York: Verso Books.

Virno, Paolo (1996) Notes on the “General Intellect”, in Makdisi, Saree et al. (eds.) (1996) Marxism beyond Marxism, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 265–272.


1In the original, it is not only the “dull compulsion” but the “mute force/ coercion” of economic relations (and conditions): “der stumme Zwang der ökonomischen Verhältnisse“. I got the English translation from, 523/549, accessed 8/4/18.

2The ILO doesn’t define it in that way. Cf., 25/53 ff;, 45 – accessed 1/4/18. Nevertheless, I will use the broader definition of the term for reasons that will become obvious.

3Whereas Marx, following classic economic theory, thought of developed capitalism mainly as a wage regime that abandons all other ways of meeting ends, it has convincingly been argued that capitalism necessarily consists of both, of wage workers’ exploitation and of the hyper-exploitation of different forms of primitive accumulation (cf. Federici 2004) – of formal and of informal regimes, including, f.e., patriarchal, colonial and racist institutions and practices (cf. Mies 1986). This is one of the reasons why doubt should be cast not only on “futuristic vision[s] of […] Autonomist Marxists” (Mollona 2005, 545) but also on Marx’s general claim regarding the revolutionary “nature” of capitalism. In other words, the economy is not, as Polanyi tried to categorise it, divorceable from the political, social, public or societal realm (cf. Graeber 2014) – rather, factories, in a way, never had walls (cf. Negri 1989, 105).

4, accessed 1/4/18.

5Cf. Marx (1990, 535), the eleventh thesis on Feuerbach, emphases in the original: “Philosophers have only interpreted the world differently; the point, however, is to change it.” In German: “Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert; es kommt aber darauf an, sie zu verändern.”

6Cf. for Hart’s general scepticism regarding economics (1986, 652, footnote 4): “Economics, like evolutionary biology, stands as a bridge between medieval cosmology and the modern aspiration to place our collective affairs on a rational footing.”

7The latter since the “formal sector monopolises trade with the ‘rest of the world’”, Hart 1973, 85.

8As stated, before and after, capitalism relied and will rely on informal non-salaried reproductive labour mainly done by women within patriarchal societies.

9For an extreme representative of such a corner, cf. De Soto 1989.

10For example, informal workers were, in a “general scarcity of cash” (Hart 1973, 76), “putting themselves in the position of the bank” (ibid., 75) in a “small niche” (71) with neither bosses nor capital. Hart, however, does not mention that the “scarcely less than infinite“ “opportunities outside the organised labour market” include, in the reality of the informal economy, non-voluntary “opportunities” such as prostitution, child labour, and human trafficking. Cf. Chang (2011) for what it means for the poor when there is no regulation to labour and no limitation of markets.

11For similarities in the South between 2006 and 2008, cf. Bolt 2012, 123, at the Zimbabwean-South African border: “The constraints placed on farm workers’ lives by their white employers offer opportunities to informal business-people. But the farms themselves only function because black residents satisfy workers’ needs through informal arrangements.”

12Hart implies something similar already in 1986 regarding monetary and credit systems: “our plastic-toting yuppie culture is nearer to Malinowski’s kula ring than either is to traditional ‘coin of the realm’ or to nineteenth century experiment in gold-backed currency” (Hart 1986, 651).

13This can be stated against the theories of anthropologists that see markets and economies everywhere (which is how they, arguably – although they overcome commodity fetishism – eternalise reification), thereby coming close to neoliberals and orthodox Marxists (cf. Jameson’s “Marxist” celebration of Gary Becker: Jameson 1992, 265). Arguably thus, these three very different strands unite in economism or in sorts of economist imperialism (cf. Milonakis and Fine 2009).

14Which makes some sense: Bolt writes (2012, 116), relying on Bernstein (2007), that, amongst other things, “informalization is the result of […] globalized neo-liberalism”.

15Rather than affirming informality, perhaps it should still be stated: “From the perspective of the world’s underclasses, what looks like a conjunctural crisis is actually a structural one, the absence of regular and decent employment.” (Breman 2009, 3.)

16It seems paradoxical at least on account of Thatcher officially wanting to “get rid of society”.

17Cf. Srnicek and Williams as well as Graeber for some similar arguments: “the contemporary left tends towards a folk politics that is incapable of turning the tide against global capitalism” (Srnicek and Williams 2015, 85); “anthropologists risk, if they are not careful, becoming yet another cog in a global ‘identity machine’, a planet-wide apparatus of institutions and assumptions that has, over the last decade or so, effectively informed the earth’s inhabitants (or at least, all but the very most elite) that, since all debates about the nature of political or economic possibilities are now over, the only way one can now make a political claim is by asserting some group identity, with all the assumptions about what identity is” (Graeber 2006, 101).