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Labor, Inequality, and the Informal Economy

at Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

Course Details
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Online Classroom
Class Level: All levels
Age Requirements: 21 and older
Average Class Size: 14
System Requirements:

You will need a reliable Internet connection as well as a computer or device with which you can access your virtual class. We recommend you arrive to class 5-10 minutes early to ensure you're able to set up your device and connection.

Class Delivery:

Classes will be held via Zoom.

Flexible Reschedule Policy: This provider has flexible, free rescheduling for any-in person workshop. Please see the cancellation policy for more details

What you'll learn in this lecture class:

Existing alongside the so-called formal economy—of employment, production, ownership, and sale within a recognized legal regime—is a shadowy realm of economic activity that takes place “out of sight,” “off the books,” and without ordinary social and political sanction. The informal economy employs legions of street vendors, domestic workers, and subcontracted workers, and as their numbers grow, questions of immigration, precarity, wages, and worker protection take on increased political urgency—even to the point of deeply destabilizing social and political orders the world over. 

What is the relation between the informal and the formal economy? Can the latter exist without the former? What does it mean to be an informal worker? In what ways are patterns of informality encroaching upon traditionally formal sectors of the economy—i.e., via “uberization”? Why is “informalizing” happening? What is the future of work?

In this course, we explore the scope and function of the informal economy, particularly as it relates to labor, and attempt to understand its structural relation and possible futures within the neoliberal global economic order. We’ll begin by examining the development and competing understandings of the concept of the informal economy, from its first articulation in the 1970s to its recent definition by the UN International Labour Organization. Next, we’ll discuss 21st-century perspectives on informality and the rise of the so-called “shared economy.” We’ll also explore the intersection of informality with race and gender, asking: does informal work code as “woman’s” work? 

In what ways does informality entrench or even transform existing class and racial hierarchies? Finally, we’ll examine informality across multiple geographies, particularly as it exists in developing and underdeveloped countries. In what ways is informality a product of development or underdevelopment, and in what ways is it a refuge from? Along the way, we’ll bear in mind the forms and future of informal work, asking: are we all eventually going to become “informals”?

Readings will be drawn from works by Keith Hart, Manuel Castells, Alejandro Portes, Milton Santos, Martha Chen, Alexandre Barbosa, Chris Tilly, Tom Slee, the International Labour Organization (ILO), Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) and others.

Remote Learning

This course is available for "remote" learning and will be available to anyone with access to an internet device with a microphone (this includes most models of computers, tablets). Classes will take place with a "Live" instructor at the date/times listed below.

Upon registration, the instructor will send along additional information about how to log-on and participate in the class.

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Refund Policy

Upon request, we will refund the entire cost of a class up until 1 week before its start date. Students who withdraw after that point but before the first class are entitled to a 75% refund. After the first class: 50%. After the second: 25%. No refunds will be given after the third class.

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Reviews of Classes at Brooklyn Institute for Social Research (27)

School: Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

Brooklyn Institute for Social Research

The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research was established in 2011 in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Its mission is to extend liberal arts education and research far beyond the borders of the traditional university, supporting community education needs and opening up new possibilities for scholarship in the...

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