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In this introductory chapter to the Research Handbook on Development and the Informal Economy, the scientific editor of the Handbook outlines why revisiting the informal economy is timely: the widespread use of the concept in various contexts together with common misconceptions and misunderstandings, especially regarding the relation of the concept to illegality; the availability of measures and estimates for an increasing number of countries and for various periods of time; the moving frontiers of the concept; and finally the diversity of ad hoc policies on the agenda of a number of developing countries. The Handbook addresses the issues of definitions and methods of measurement, assesses the magnitude and trends of the phenomenon, and discusses the strategies and policies designed to tackle it. Informality is a flexible concept, and new frontiers of the concept have emerged that deserve more attention, in particular its extension to unpaid domestic and care work. The Handbook also deals with the dialectics of observation and action on three vulnerable groups of workers in the informal economy, from the most visible because working in the open sun yet also the least known – the street vendors – to the equally visible yet the least regarded – the waste pickers – and finally to the most invisible and equally ignored – the home-based workers. Concrete experiences across the developing world are mobilised to showcase the modalities of organising and giving voice and visibility to these informal workers at the bottom of the pyramid. Finally, the Handbook addresses issues such as the recognition of skills acquired in the informal sector, the role of apprenticeship, and innovation as a potential step towards bottom-up industrialisation or as a means for self-reliance in refugee economies. It also attempts to assess the impact of technological change on the alleviation of women’s burden of unpaid domestic and care work, or as a means for widening the benefits or loosening the clamps of the poor informal workers at the bottom of global supply chains, or also concerning the transformation of home-based piece workers into even more fragmented task- or click workers throughout the digitisation process. This research handbook does not pretend to cover all topics and issues related to the informal economy. The scientific editor’s decision has been to provide a wide and diversified range of approaches likely to make scholars and researchers aware of the issues to be tackled and the challenges at stake within this rather recent field of knowledge in economics and the social sciences at large. It offers historical, theoretical, political and practical entries into a still-burgeoning and debated field of research. It provides some indications or orientations towards domains that require more in-depth investigations, and it paves the way for an improvement of the living and working conditions of informal workers and a renewed discussion about the social contract between the ‘excluded’ and the state.
An Evolutionary Perspective
Edited by Jon C. Messenger
Keith Townsend, Aoife M. McDermott, Kenneth Cafferkey and Tony Dundon
It is perhaps easier to explain what theory is not rather than what it is. Theory is not facts or data. Nor is theory a hypothesis, or a case study. It is not a literature review. A theory is a set of general principles or ideas that are meant to explain how something works, and is independent of what it intends to explain. The purpose of a theory (or set of theories) is to help explain what causes something to occur, or to inform us of the likely consequences of a phenomenon. In so doing, theories can be more or less abstract, and be pitched at different levels - explaining society, processes, relations, behaviour and perceptions. For practitioners, theories can enhance understanding and inform decision-making. For researchers, theories shape the framing of their data, and are often presented as an essential part of any well-designed research project. Reflecting this, Hambrick (2007: 1346) argues that theory is essential for a field to flourish and advance. Indeed, many management journals require scholars to make a ‘theoretical contribution’ to get published, prompting something of an obsession with a theory-driven approach in management-related areas. Thus, while recognizing the value and importance of theory, we offer a cautionary note. Specifically, we suggest that it may be fruitful for a field to support initial consideration of phenomena-driven trends or patterns before becoming fixated on having a theoretical explanation. For example, that smoking can cause harm and ill health in humans does not need a theory to prove its validity (Hambrick, 2007). Reflecting this, in disciplines such as sociology, economics and finance there has been less of an ‘essential need’ to publish with some new theoretical development in mind. Instead, ideas, logics, concepts, premises are given due attention and the notion of exploring data is seen as valid and valuable in deciding if certain issues or phenomena are in themselves evident or emergent. Where this is the case, theory can then help to understand and explain such issues. Theory is therefore a crucial lens on the world, one that provides value in addressing both evident and emergent issues. Notwithstanding that empirics and theory both contribute value and vibrancy to a field, our focus here is on the role of theory, and some of the specific theories used in employment relations (ER) and human resource management (HRM) research.