Many of the workshops of Santo Domingo’s small producers and repairers of metal objects, furniture, mattresses, textiles, and other items are situated in some of the city’s most populous neighborhoods. An example is the barrio Villa Consuelo, located near downtown Santo Domingo. This old working-class barrio houses a series of timber importers and timber merchants, and a large number of carpenter shops and furniture workshops. Most of these talleres, or workshops, are situated in small buildings or houses that originally were constructed for residential purposes. To run a workshop in this type of neighborhood is a challenge; the sound, or the smell, of the production may anger neighbors, the workshop premises may be too small or restricting, without possibilities for expansion—and the narrow, crowded streets render access to and from the workshop (to deliver timber, finished products, and so on) difficult. The country’s small business associations and political activists have therefore—and for a long time now—been demanding that the state construct a number of parques industriales—special areas zoned and planned for industrial development. In an industrial park, firms can cooperate to secure better services and to reduce costs. However, constructing an industrial park is a large investment. In the late 1960s, the Dominican government built one in Herrera, in western Santo Domingo, but after that no more were planned until 2004, when the state decided to create at least eight new parks in different parts of the country. Three years later, in 2007, a national plan, El Plan Nacional de Competitividad Sistémica de la República Dominicana, <"page_2"/>outlined the need to intensify the country’s efforts to develop separate areas for industrial use. In spite of this, the history of the state’s creation of industrial parks is depressing.
At the time of my fieldwork, in 2013, only three parks had been built. More correctly, two small parks had been completed and were up and running: one in the eastern part of the capital, and one in the city of San Cristóbal. In 2004, construction had begun on a third, the Parque Industrial Santo Domingo Oeste (DISDO), located in Manoguayabo in the western part of the capital, but by 2013 the park was still far from completed. It was to be a large park—clearly the state’s most significant attempt to develop a separate area for small domestic enterprises—but it had evolved into a strange story.
Cristian Nolasco, a man in his forties and head of the small family enterprise, Industrias Colón, had invested in the park in 2004, as he had wanted to relocate his furniture manufacturing business.1 His workshop, which was situated in the barrio Villa Consuelo, produced beds, chairs, and other items of wood and metal. It had always been a small venture, but from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s business went well, and Cristian was employing around fifteen workers. After these promising years, the enterprise began to stagnate and then decline. Although it continued to make the same products, over the years, demand had fallen. When I met him for the first time, in 2012, the workshop had essentially been without production for six months. Cristian and a brother or a sister still ran the workshop, but there were no employees, and it was without life. If he did receive an order, Cristian would call in some of his previous workers. Asked to explain the declining demand, he underscored a set of factors. The state had, in practice, worked against the country’s domestic industry, and imports from Asia and elsewhere had grown steadily. During the last few years, the prices of timber and other raw materials had gone up, and the crisis in the country’s electricity sector had aggravated the situation: the cost of power had remained high, but supply was erratic at best. Ever increasing production costs had rendered domestic family businesses less competitive, particularly given the growing import sector flooding the market with cheap commodities.
Industrias Colón is located in a small, two-story building that was, originally, a family home. Cristian’s father had owned the place, and they had removed some walls and made a few other changes, converting the house into a workshop with storerooms and a couple of offices. In the early 2000s, Cristian was looking for new premises, a place where the firm could continue to develop, in which he could justify investing. However, as he explained, the places he found were either too far away or too expensive, so he remained where he was. When the government started to construct a large industrial park in the western part of the capital in August 2004, he was enthusiastic and decided to join the scheme and invest in the project. According to the plan, the park would be completed in two or three years and would house almost 200 small- and medium-sized ventures, generate thousands of jobs, and represent the nation’s largest industrial zone so far. The area is located some 20 kilometers from the city center and 10 kilometers from one of the country’s most important thoroughfares, Autopista Juan Pablo Duarte. Cristian emphasized the difference between a project like this and the country’s many zonas francas, or export-processing zones: “The free zones have been created in order to attract foreign companies; the companies don’t pay taxes—the only condition is that they use local labor-power. You import your machines and raw materials, and export your products, without paying taxes. The free zones have been made for large international companies. However, an industrial park is something different. In a park, we’re all in the same situation, we pay taxes, but we need an industrial area, an area where we can reduce our electricity expenses and other expenses.”
Nevertheless, several years later, the park in Manoguayabo was still far from finished. Further, the whole area was in a miserable state. In early 2012, the state had so far spent around 150 million pesos on the project, and the area’s streets and much of the infrastructure had been constructed, but only a few of the production premises. At the time, one of the country’s leading newspapers published an article on the project under the telling headline: “The industrial park DISDO has become grazing land” (Hoy 2012a). According to the article, construction work to finish the park had been paralyzed for more than three years, although President Leonel Fernández on several occasions had promised completion. Cables, doors, windows, and other materials had been removed and stolen, while cattle, horses and other animals had been put to graze in the area. Some five years later, in April 2017, little had changed, with the exception that the state now had spent significantly more on the project, in total more than 680 million pesos. The area continued to mostly be “un potrero [pasture land]” (García 2017).
What had happened? Cristian explained that one of the first problems had been a change in the original plan. Originally, the plan was that he and the others would purchase their lots, that the state, through the state institution Proindustria, would construct all the plants and premises—and that all the businesses would pay off what they owed the state within thirty years. Then the plan changed so that they just received the lots, without the state building the premises. Instead, everyone had to construct their own premises with the aid of an ordinary bank loan. Subsequently the project went through a series of other changes. “You know,” Cristian said drily, one day in early 2013, “since the start in 2004 we have seen three different governments [with elections in 2004, 2008, and 2012]: During these years, ministers and functionaries have come and gone. The industrial park in Manoguayabo has been refashioned more than three times. Every time we have a new government official with responsibility for the park, he changes the plan for the construction of the streets, the pavements, the containers, or something else in the park. Although the streets already have been completed and paved, he decides to change them, relocate them. In this way, he secures a commission, makes money—since he creates a need for a new construction work. He hires an engineer to do the work, who pays him a commission. The streets were fine, finished. Yet, suddenly they had to be altered, but they don’t explain why. So,” Cristian rounded off, “the only reasonable explanation is corruption.”
Cristian began to pay his installments to Proindustria in 2004. After three or four years, a number of firm owners stopped paying, but many others continued. Cristian stopped paying in 2010. He said, “Things have changed. If this had been ten years ago, I would have been able to obtain the money to construct premises on my lot in the park—but not now.” Most of the others who had paid, perhaps 80 percent, he went on, were in a similar situation. “We’re small enterprises, in difficulties, lacking capital and resources; it’s impossible for us to get a bank loan to build premises or a plant.” Cristian’s plan, and that of many others, was therefore, when the park was finished and the lots had been legally and finally transferred, to find a buyer and sell. With the capital that he got in this way, he said, he would seek to start afresh where he was, in Villa Consuelo. He concluded with an angry smile: “Very good medicine—but it arrives too late” (Muy buena medicina, pero ya va llegar tarde).
According to World Bank data, the Dominican Republic stands out over the last thirty years as one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as worldwide. The Dominican economy expanded by an average growth rate of 4.9 percent per year from 2001 to 2017.2 Growth in the country remained high in the years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, and between 2015 and 2019 the Dominican Republic’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate averaged 6.1 percent.3 The rapid growth allowed the country’s real per capita income to increase substantially. Real GDP per capita in 1993 stood at US$3,000 (in 2010 rates), or 7.5 percent of US per capita GDP. By 2016, the country’s real income was US$7,000 or 13.5 percent of US per capita GDP. Thus, the Dominican Republic narrowed the gap with respect to US income by 6 percentage points over the last twenty-five years. By contrast, the median country in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in the world, narrowed their income gap with respect to the United States by 2 and 4 percentage points, respectively, over the same time frame. Moreover, during the period 1993–2017, the Dominican Republic saw a sharper reduction in its income gap with respect to the United States than 86 percent of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, and 87 percent of countries in the world (World Bank Group 2018:13–14). This conspicuous economic performance, however, has not translated into equally significant improvements in working and living conditions for all. The Dominican Republic has seen growth, yet the nation remains characterized by an astonishingly high percentage of workers (citizens) in a vulnerable situation. “The Dominican paradox”—high growth, stagnant or declining wages, tenacious poverty, and a vast informal economy—has for a decade or more attracted the attention of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other institutions (Abdullaev and Estevão 2013; Parisotto and Prepelitchi 2013; Carneiro and Sirtaine 2017; Winkler and Montenegro 2021). Official Dominican employment rates have remained low compared to those of other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (Abdullaev and Estevão 2013:5–6), and official informality levels increased from 54 percent in 2004 to 56 percent in 2013 (Carneiro and Sirtaine 2017:4).
Strong economic growth and large productivity gains, however, have been concentrated in only a few parts of the economy. Such sectors (especially manufacturing in the country’s zonas francas, telecommunications, and financial services) have had limited impact on job generation, even though they have been growing at high rates and generating a large share of the Dominican GDP (Abdullaev and Estevão 2013:3–5). Moreover, the jobs that have been created have tended to be of the low-paid type, and real earnings have fallen (Carneiro and Sirtaine 2017:3–4).4
The disjuncture between the nation’s high-value-added economic sectors (with limited job production) and its low-value-added economic sectors (with “informality” and enormous employment increase) is reflected in the Dominican Republic’s poverty figures. In 2000, the official poverty incidence in the country was below the regional average; 33 percent of Dominicans lived on less than US$4 a day, compared with 42 percent of those living in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2003–4, the country experienced a colossal domestic banking crisis. The financial and economic emergency that followed drove an estimated 1.7 million more Dominicans into poverty, and the poverty rate rose to 50 percent in 2004.5 When the nation and the economy recovered after the crisis, poverty rates began to drop but only returned to the precrisis level, around 33 percent (now a level above, not below, the region’s average), in 2015 (Carneiro and Sirtaine 2017:1–2).
The dictator Rafael Trujillo ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961, and was followed by another authoritarian leader, Joaquín Balaguer, who was in power 1966–78, and then again in 1986–96. Two leaders, Leonel Fernández and Danilo Medina, dominated the years from 1996 to 2020. Both represented the Dominican Liberation Party (Partido de la Liberación Dominicana [PLD]), the country’s largest and leading political party. Before Fernández won the presidential election in 1996, he had worked to make the PLD less leftist and more centrist (I return to this point later). Fernández was in power from 1996 to 2000 and from 2004 to 2012,6 and was followed by Medina, who became president in 2012 and was reelected in 2016.
The purpose of this book is to chart and analyze how ordinary and poor Dominicans work and live in the shadow of the country’s conspicuous growth rates. Jobless growth can be defined as an economic condition in which a macroeconomy experiences growth while maintaining or decreasing its level of employment.7 I explore the popular economy in the Dominican capital and investigate how people act and survive in a part of the contemporary world that lacks “good” (decent-paying, rights-based, secure) jobs. I examine the condition of the urban masses in the PLD state and analyze the changes and conditions in Santo Domingo in the two decades from the late 1990s to Medina’s second presidential term (2016—20). I interweave ethnographic analyses and forms of social history. The bulk of the ethnographic data were produced through intermittent fieldwork undertaken in the Dominican capital from May 2012 to November 2017, but the book also draws on a longer research interest in, and contact with, Dominicans. I conducted thirteen months of anthropological fieldwork in and around the village of La Descubierta in the southwestern part of the Dominican Republic in 1991–92. From 2002 to 2008, I carried out intermittent fieldwork among Dominican immigrants in New York City. I have published on aspects of the Dominican political, economic, and social history since the mid-1990s (see the works by Krohn-Hansen listed in the references section). I gathered data through field research in Santo Domingo for three and a half months, from early May to late August 2012. Thereafter I lived mostly in Oslo but returned for shorter stays: three times in 2013, once in 2014, once in 2016, and once in 2017. Each stay lasted between two and four weeks; most were about two or three. In total, I carried out almost seven months of fieldwork in the Dominican capital. The research consisted mainly of observation and informal conversations and interviews in a series of different populous and poor barrios scattered throughout the city. Most of my data were gathered in the north and east of the city (in areas such as Villa Consuelo, Villas Agrícolas, Cristo Rey, Villa Mella, Sabana Perdida, La Victoria, Ensanche Ozama, Los Mina, and Los Trinitarios), although I worked in many other areas of the capital. Some of my data were produced in neighborhoods in the south and west of the city. Many of my interlocutors were small producers, traders, or storeowners. Some were, or had been, factory workers or street vendors, while others worked in supermarkets, or as drivers, domestic workers, teachers, or office employees.
Chapter 1 analyzes the conditions and activities of the capital’s many small furniture makers. Chapter 2 investigates the histories and the strategies of single mothers who either operate a small food stall or buy and sell vegetables. Until recently, most Dominicans purchased food and groceries in colmados and in public markets. El colmado, the small barrio or street-corner store, continues to be the most widespread small business in the country and is a Dominican institution. Chapter 3 discusses the major changes in the Dominican retail distribution sector over the last few decades, and analyzes the present conditions and practices of the capital’s colmados. Chapter 4 focuses on the nation’s cooperative movement. Over the last two decades, Dominican savings and credit cooperatives have become increasingly important. The chapter maps and discusses how these business ventures are organized, and how they function economically and socially. Throughout these chapters, I seek to answer a set of basic questions: How do people make a living? What characterizes their work? How do people acquire their own small economic enterprises, and how do they operate them? How do they tackle market shifts? How do they manage risks, lasting unpredictability, and sudden changes? What characterizes their relationship to (encounters with) the state?
Chapter 5, “Jobless Growth, ‘No Labor’ Futures, and the Investigation of Popular Economies,” formulates a set of answers to a more general or broader question: How can researchers usefully examine and write about the popular economies in the many city landscapes that, since the mid-twentieth century, have appeared in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia? I seek to outline some general principles or tools for ethnographic inquiry into the livelihood strategies of the urban masses in today’s global South.
This study explores Dominicans’ income-producing strategies as labor activities and investments. I use the term “investment” in a broad sense. An investment refers, in Jane Guyer’s (2004:99) words, to “a performative conversion, a devotion of present income to the hope of future gains.” We always need a cultural and affective analysis of economic activities. If we wish to understand economic forms, we need to study the ideas, values, and sentiments that incite, energize, and shape specific economic actions, with their accompanying configurations of identity production (Hirschman  2013; Mazzarella 2009; Bear et al. 2015).
In The Problem with Work (2011), Kathi Weeks has given us a thought-provoking and bold book.8 Weeks challenges the presupposition that work, or waged labor, is intrinsically a social and political good. While progressive political forces, including the Marxist and feminist movements, have demanded and struggled for equal pay, better work conditions, and the recognition of unpaid work as a valued form of labor, even they have tended to accept and naturalize work as an inevitable (not to say sacred) human activity. Weeks asks why we work so long and so hard. “The mystery here,” she argues, “is not that we are required to work or that we are expected to devote so much time and energy to its pursuit, but rather that there is not more active resistance to this state of affairs . . . after all, even the best job is a problem when it monopolizes so much of life” (2011:1). She argues that, in taking work as a given, we have “depoliticized” it, or removed it, to an absurd extent, from the sphere of political critique. Weeks proposes a postwork universe or society that would allow people to be productive and creative rather than unceasingly bound to the employment relation.9
There is a limitation inherent in the perspective developed by Weeks. Who are her “we,” the “we” about whom, or on whose behalf, she writes? We (researchers and critics) need a globally oriented perspective. The Problem with Work focuses only on the United States—exclusively on Western late capitalist (or industrial/postindustrial) historical formations. In this book, I focus on another historical condition, another reality. I discuss the conditions of the working masses in a part of the global South.10 But the two histories (that of today’s Western core, or center, and that of today’s Caribbean) have been, and remain, intertwined, mutually constitutive. They belong together, are co-present in each other, and should be understood as two sides of the same process. For some within today’s world economy or late capitalist system, the problem with work is the overwork that often characterizes even the most privileged forms of employment, while for others, the problem is miserable wages or the absence of jobs.
An example of the global connections and interweavings is Dominican labor migration to the United States. Considerable emigration from the Dominican Republic to the United States began in the early 1960s, after the assassination of Trujillo. Most of these Dominicans settled in New York City, and the growth of the Dominican population there has been considerable. The Dominican Republic, in absolute numbers, sent more immigrants to New York City than did any other country during the 1970s and 1980s, and maintained that position through the early 1990s (by the mid-1990s the former Soviet Union was the number-one source of immigrants to New York City).11 Since 1995, however, the Dominican Republic has continued to send great numbers of migrants to New York. The overwhelming majority of these Dominicans left the island in search of work. In much of the twentieth century, the Dominican Republic was an exporter of sugar for the world market. During the last six decades, the country has turned into an exporter of another commodity, raw human labor-power. Similar changes or transformations have occurred in the same period in other parts of the world (see, for example, Pedersen 2013). At any rate, the global capitalist system contains, or offers, limited numbers of good or decent jobs. Some people work too hard or burn out. Others are underpaid or unemployed. Many experience underemployment or are <"page_10"/>victims of jobless growth. Most mainstream economists and politicians view “full employment” as impossible, and admit that structural unemployment rates probably will grow because of technological innovation, robotization, and intensified globalization. Weeks is right when she insists that a key question should be about the societal or collective organization and distribution of (necessary) work. In addition, she is right when she maintains that it is necessary to critically rethink how we view, define, and practice the relationship between participation in and the performance of (waged) work and the allocation of (full public citizenship) rights (see also Ferguson 2015). Both questions are thoroughly political. Both demand globally oriented answers.12
Adopting a global perspective on the problems with wage labor today, or on capital-labor relations, means a clear rejection of a Eurocentric or North Atlantic perspective that focuses nearly exclusively on the state of affairs in former metropolitan territories. Two processes have been central in the last five or six decades, when considered from a global or postcolonial capital-labor perspective. One of these has produced an accelerated process of “proletarianization”—that is, a massive expansion of the global working class in classic Marxist forms. The other has created spectacular levels (or amounts) of “informalization”. As Mike Davis put it some years ago, “the global informal working class (overlapping with but non-identical to the slum population) is about one billion strong, making it the fastest growing, and most unprecedented, social class on earth” (2006:178). Shifts in the global economy over the past forty or forty-five years have expanded and restructured the globe’s proletariat. The numbers of workers worldwide doubled between 1975 and 1995, as part of what was increasingly called globalization but was mostly an expanded reproduction of capital on a global scale (Coates 2000; Harvey 2005). At the same time, the global labor force became feminized and “Southernized”. As Ronaldo Munck has put it,
perhaps the most salient feature in the qualitative composition of the great quantitative leap forward of the global labour force is its concentration on the South, or what economists still call developing regions. Whereas the number of workers in the OECD countries only increased from 372 million in 1985 to 400 million in 2000 (0.5%), the number of workers in the South increased from 1595 million to 2137 million, which represented a 20% annual growth rate. The gender composition of the global labour force also changed dramatically over the same period, with female labour force participation surpassing 50% by the mid-1980s. The expansion, feminization and what we might call “Southernization” of the working class went hand in hand. (Munck 2013:755)
The point is that the (global) working class remains in place. The number of proletarians worldwide has grown. Many of these workers reside in the South, and many are women. They work for corporations and firms within a multiplicity of sectors. Most earn low or very low wages. It is too early to bid farewell to the classic wage proletariat.
In parallel to the Southernization and the feminization of the working class, the so-called informal economies in the South continued to expand explosively and colossally. Since the 1980s, the informal sector has grown far faster than formal sector employment. Large companies and firms have, of course, capitalized on this phenomenon through their subcontracting chains, which are now crucial to so much commodity production. It is also an integral component of China’s thriving industrial economy, which is bolstered by informal sectors. There is not a sharp division between “formal” and “informal” economies, but rather a continuum based on connections, symbioses, and overlapping areas.13
In this book, I focus on the implications of massive urban growth through forms of informalization. The focus is not so much on the effects of the proliferation of factory workers or proletarians through accelerated globalization—or the expansion, feminization, and Southernization of the world’s working class—rather, I am concerned primarily with this question: How do we best investigate and understand popular economies in the many large cityscapes that, over the course of the last few decades, have emerged in the global South? The changes in Santo Domingo provide a good case. I investigated the popular economy in Santo Domingo through studies of family businesses, trade, self-employment, and community-based cooperatives. I view this type of interest as key. Much of the real, or important, daily economy in the megacities and large cities of the South is based on these forms—myriad small enterprises, petty trade, and forms of self-employment. Since the structural adjustment crises of the 1980s, the informal sector has grown far more—and faster—than formal sector employment (Munck 2013). According to data from ILO (2018), seven out of ten workers in developing countries today make a living in informal markets. The question is, how do ordinary citizens in the South get by (especially the many who <"page_12"/>stay put and do not emigrate)? How do they work and save? To be able to begin to shape useful answers, we need what James Ferguson and Tania Murray Li have described as a reformulated, more open “approach to global political-economic inquiry in the wake of the failure of long-established transition narratives, notably the narrative centred on a universal trajectory from farm-based and ‘traditional’ livelihoods into the ‘proper jobs’ of modern industrial society” (2018: 1). I am also fully behind them when they continue: “the prevalence and persistence of ‘informal,’ ‘precarious,’ and ‘non-standard’ employment in so many sites around the world [today] . . . requires a profound analytical decentering of waged and salaried employment as a presumed norm or telos, and a consequent reorientation of our empirical research protocols.” This is not to say—and I underscore this—that (the value or price of) wage labor does not remain key: it continues to play a huge role. The data mentioned above on the expansion of the global proletariat tells a clear story. Many in today’s Dominican Republic are wage laborers. However, the access to well-paid or at least decent jobs is limited. Often the salary is low or miserable and the working conditions demanding or brutal. Many give it a go but subsequently gravitate into a type of street vending, trade, or other form of small-business development. This makes it imperative to seek to understand these realms of the economy, and this is what I try to do in the subsequent chapters.
For more than five centuries, Santo Domingo’s economy has been a part of the global economy and, since 1844 (the year of the inception of Dominican national independence), it has been conditioned by the Dominican state-building project. Both transnational capitalism and the Dominican state-making project have given shape to contemporary Santo Domingo through particular processes that, in a certain sense, have generated more socioeconomic “disorder” than order. In the remainder of this introduction, I seek to substantiate this assertion. In the next section, I look first at some of the key features of the historical incorporation of the island’s and the nation’s economy into the world economy. I then outline, briefly, the last couple of decades of PLD rule.
1. Some words are in order here on the use of names and pseudonyms in this book. I have used real names of powerful business families, political and economic leaders, and familiar political activists in Santo Domingo. All other names of persons have been changed. I have used the real names of organizations and associations—but in a handful of cases I have changed the name of a business, a cooperative, or a place to protect informants’ anonymity.
2. The continuous growth in annual gross domestic product started in the early 1990s. The Dominican economy expanded by an average growth rate of 6 percent per year from 1993 to 2000.
3. While the bulk of this book was shaped and written before the COVID-19 crisis unfolded, its ethnographic descriptions and analytical insights remain highly relevant for the postcrisis period. As in other countries, the early projections of the impact of the crisis on employment, livelihood strategies, and poverty outcomes were worrisome. In late 2020, the World Bank expected the GDP of the Dominican Republic to contract by 4–5 percent in 2020. (For more on how the global shock triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected the Dominican Republic’s society and economy, see the afterword.) However, this book does not seek to dwell on the COVID-19 crisis. Rather, its goal is to outline and analyze various structural and decisive features of the Dominican Republic’s and the Dominican capital’s social and economic processes, in the belief that these features are likely to remain important even after the crisis has passed.
4. The country has seen a continual decline in real wages. Real average hourly wages in the Dominican Republic in 2010, for example, were 20 percent below the level reached in 2000 (Parisotto and Prepelitchi 2013:12–13).
5. Banco Intercontinental (or BANINTER) was the second-largest privately held commercial bank in the Dominican Republic before it collapsed in 2003 owing to gigantic fraud tied to political corruption. The resulting central bank bailout spurred a 30 percent annual inflation and, as mentioned, increased poverty.
6. The opposition candidate, Hipólito Mejía, and the Dominican Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Dominicano [PRD]) won the election in 2000 and held power for the next four years.
7. The term “jobless growth” was coined by the US economist Nicholas Perna in the early 1990s.
8. Throughout this book, I am preoccupied with other processes and other questions than those with which Weeks essentially concerns herself—but I am nonetheless inspired by some of her perspectives and arguments.
9. The project to conceptualize and build a postwork society has a long, diverse, and rich history. Among Weeks’s most important precursors are Marxists, autonomist Marxists, feminists, and others. A conspicuous example is Karl Marx’s son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, who early on (at least some 140 years ago), committed to the theory or doctrine of “refusal of work” and was interested in the possibilities of a postwork future. See the bitingly critical and satiric essay collection The Right to Be Lazy: Essays by Paul Lafargue (Lafargue 2011).
10. When I speak of “the global North” and “the global South,” I refer to positions or locations within the global political-economic system, or a globally extended structure of domination and inequality, not to geographic places or territories.
11. Based on data supplied by the US Census Bureau. See, in addition, Ricourt (2002:35).
12. The brilliance of Weeks’s book lies in its refreshing, strong insistence that work must be seen as a fully political rather than a simply economic phenomenon. The inquiry into labor regimes and labor forms cannot be isolated from the exploration of political life and of the making of the state (something that I seek to show in historical and ethnographic detail). Weeks argues that the question of work ultimately is a question of freedom (2011:20–23). I agree. As Susan Buck-Morss has instructively demonstrated in her Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History (2009), the Enlightenment’s thinkers, while liberating in the abstract, refused to address the enduring existence, in their midst, of violence and inequality in the form of slavery. The slave revolution that created independent Haiti showed the possibility of a broader and more inclusive—in brief, more revolutionary—democratic project, but that was glossed over or silenced. “Liberty” was regarded by eighteenth-century European political philosophers as the highest political value. “Slavery” operated as freedom’s conceptual antithesis and, quite simply, as an image, a key metaphor: “For eighteenth-century thinkers who contemplated the subject, slavery stood as the central metaphor for all the forces that debased the human spirit” (Davis 1975:263). Rousseau, for example, writes in On the Social Contract ( 2019:10), “[T]he right of slavery is null, not simply because it is illegitimate, but because it is absurd and meaningless. These words slavery and right are contradictory. They are mutually exclusive.” But the same author had nothing to say about the French empire’s and Europe’s actual, enormous, legalized use of Africans as slaves. In today’s world, forced labor and slave labor have, as we know, by no means disappeared (Calvão 2016). The case of slavery is extreme and demonstrates the depths of human suffering and tragedy—but it is also a case that shows, with exceptional clarity, how labor regimes (with their recruitment of workers and organizations of work forms) can hardly be understood in isolation from the wider structures of domination that shape and surround them—or the basic conditions of freedom. The labor question is, in the last instance, a matter of human sovereignty, freedom, and dignity.
13. The use of the concept of “the informal sector” (or “the informal economy”) is, to be sure, fraught with intellectual difficulties. Indeed, Keith Hart, the originator of the very category “informal sector,” has suggested that in many nations informalization has now become so widespread that it no longer makes any sense to seek to identify a distinct sector or form of activity. As he claims, “when most of the economy is ‘informal,’ the usefulness of the category becomes questionable” (2006:28). In this book, I employ the term loosely and just occasionally. For the purposes of the book, the informal economy refers to activities that evade (the state’s) labor market regulations (such as those governing the minimum salary, social security, and hiring and firing, or regulations about working conditions, such as health and safety). For more on the term “informal sector” and the use of the conceptual distinction between “form” and “lack of form,” or between “formalization” and “informalization,” see Hart (1973, 1992, 2006) and Lazar (2012).