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Migrant Productivities: Street Vendors and the Informal Knowledge Work in Naples

IJED, Vol. 6 No. 3, (2004)

This paper examines the knowledge work of organizing migrant economic activity – informal, underground and formal – in Naples, Italy. The two dominant approaches to migrant entrepreneurship will be critiqued for their over-determined focus on the individual maximizing his or her needs. That is, both the research that concentrates on the putative cultural resources and co-ethnic social networks available to migrants, or that which emphasizes the individual neo-classical entrepreneurial perspective, with a focus usually on one business or entrepreneur fail to address the sociality I observed in extensive fieldwork in Naples, Italy. This paper examines the migrant search for livelihood by considering the key role knowledge and power play in the capacity of migrants to make a living, to find work and to imagine different futures. That is, this paper examines how migrants not only negotiate their everyday livelihood in the city’s economy but also how they imagine new forms of work organization. Naples is well known for its extensive informal economic activity and, recently, migrants have become a key component of this already established underground economy. Recent changes in the legal requirements for permits of stay have added more onerous formal conditions for the renewal of permits, but informal activity continues alongside or within conditions, with knowledge and imagination the key skills migrants employ to organize under these conditions. This paper will attempt to identify and value that informal knowledge.

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