13. 6. 2022

‘Forms of informality: Searching for meaningful life at Czech landfills’ presentation at Regulating Work workshop in Liège

Daniel presented a paper at the workshop ‘Regulating Work: Exploring the dynamics of labour beyond the formal/informal divide’ that took place on June 9-10, 2022 in Liège.


Forms of informality: Searching for meaningful life at Czech landfills

Daniel Sosna

When Alena Ledeneva and her colleagues published the massive two-volume Global Encyclopaedia of Informality in 2018 the research topic seemed to have run its course. A subsequent development of the debates clearly shows that it is not the case. Amorphous and polysemous nature of informality keeps provoking. On one hand, informality serves as a linguistic shortcut that lumps together a range of practices and ideas linked to human capacity to live in grey zones. It increases the efficiency of communication like categories such as tribe or ethnicity do. On the other hand, it faces the same critique of simplifying or even obscuring what the world is like through ill-conceived act of classification.

Building upon a decade of ethnographic research among the actors in Czech waste management I critically interrogate the concept of informality. Building upon ideas of Kathleen Millar about plasticity, I examine how practices and relations associated with subsistence acquire and modify form and how different forms relate to each other. I focus on the lives of three groups of actors – landfill workers, managers, and waste pickers – who move through ambiguous zones of ‘what is one supposed to do’ when engaging with garbage. Each group is positioned differently within the web of social relations and uses its own strategies to solve problems while navigating through the landscape of everyday ethics. One might say that they practice different kinds of informality. Alternatively, one might approach these practices as different forms of living that unfold through everyday negotiation with the prescribed versions of conduct. Although I am not convinced that plasticity magically resolves the problems of informality, it encourages us to rethink what form might be and acknowledge its constitutive role for informality not as its opposite but its inherent part.