Ryan Schram's Anthrocyclopaedia

Anthropology presentations and learning resources

User Tools

Site Tools

View page as slide show

The moral economy

The moral economy

Ryan Schram

Mills 169 (A26)


Wednesday, August 24, 2015

Available at: http://anthro.rschram.org/1002/5.2

The informal sector

  • Illegal forms of trade: Liquor sales, gambling, counterfeit goods, pirated movies
  • Illegal places of business: On the street, out of one's home
  • Outside of the banking system
  • Not subject to the moral requirements of kin and community either

On the black market

During Papua New Guinea's colonial period, indigenous people were not allowed to buy alcohol. Homemade intoxicants, like gamada (kava), were also banned

Liquor sales today require a license, which most people can't afford to get. Reselling liquor is still a pretty good way to make money.

The government of Port Moresby recently banned chewing and selling betel nut in public. This cut off a steady source of income for many poor people.

Painim wok

For a long time during the colonial period, indigenous people were not allowed to stay overnight in towns, unless they were formally employed by a white person, and then only in their banis (compound).

People set up little settlements on the outskirts of towns, built their own houses where they could live and seek opportunities, including paid work.

These settlements also became gateways to the city for other rural residents from the same places, or wantoks.

This is not a clash of market principles and communal morality, but a combination of two different moral systems.

Women's work

  • Informal enterprise looks different when we apply gender as a lens.
  • Informal enterprises are often “women's work,” done alongside or part of women's roles in families.
  • Both labor markets and gift systems are male dominated.
  • Women fill in the gaps and make the whole system hang together, but don't get recognized for this.

The breakdown of the Fordist social contract

  • Fordism is a method of organizing production, but Fordism also sustained a social contract between the ruling class and society: High wages and general affluence in exchange for private profits through mass production.
  • When Fordism fades, women must work a “second shift” - first wage labor then housework and child care (Hochschild 1989).
  • Hence, informal economies matter more for making ends meet.
  • Poor single mothers have to find work and care for children, so they exchange labor with each other (Stack 1974).
  • Welfare activism has often argued that women's informal exchanges of care are unpaid labor and should be supported (e.g. Mazelis 2017).

A middle-class informal economy

  • The gig economy: Is it also partly sustained by informal support?
  • Family-based aged care?
  • Can you think of other examples of needs which middle-class wage-earners could once meet through the market, but now involve gifts and informal support?


  • The encounter between social forces and market forces is not simply collective constraints on individual behavior. (That's a false dichotomy!) Rather, social forces and market forces are driven by two distinct value systems.
  • These value systems conflict, but they also interact in not-so-obvious ways.
  • The formation of informal economies is not a breakdown of capitalism. It's an unintended, but inevitable, side effect of the contradictions in capitalism
  • The value created by informal ties not only helps people survive, but can be exploited by global capital. We shall discuss this in detail next week.


Hochschild, Arlie Russell, and Anne Machung. 1989. The Second Shift. New York: Penguin Books.

Mazelis, Joan Maya. 2017. Surviving Poverty: Creating Sustainable Ties among the Poor. New York: New York University Press.

Stack, Carol B. 2008 [1974]. All Our Kin: Strategies For Survival In A Black Community. New York: Basic Books.

A guide to the unit

1002/5.2.txt · Last modified: 2016/08/22 22:15 by ryans