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Gendered networks and spatial arrangements of informal entrepreneurial activities in a Detroit neighbourhood

Towards an Understanding of the Economies of Neighbourhoods and Communities

Jenny Lendrum and Sarah Swider

This chapter explores the gendered spatial arrangements and practices of informal entrepreneurial and economic activities in one neighbourhood in Detroit, Dtown. Using ethnographic methods, we explore how the larger political economy and spatial arrangements and practices shape the social relationships which mediate exchanges in the informal economy. The ways in which urban space is structured shapes and supports social networks and challenges dichotomous relationships of space. We show the fluidity of space as women carve out and use space in the neighbourhood in new ways to create and sustain networks of economic and social importance, challenging the standard conceptualization of private and public space. We present three types of gendered space based on usage: public, private, and domestic. We show how: 1) public spaces are gendered, which disallows/prevents women from utilizing these spaces in ways that benefit or enhance their opportunities for economic gains and access to resources; 2) private spaces such as businesses are gendered in ways that limit interactions for women but are tailored to men’s interactions; and 3) domestic spaces operate as the public when cash-generating activities are conducted in this space and have become more public as they are used for economic, community and social activities. Our data show the gendered ways that public and private space is blurred and suggest that we should not only look at how public spaces are contested or become privatized but also the process by which private space becomes public. These gendered and racialized processes have important implications for women’s social and economic opportunities, often created through social networks, which should be investigated further.