The Hidden Enterprise Culture
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The Hidden Enterprise Culture

Entrepreneurship in the Underground Economy

Colin C. Williams

Portraying how entrepreneurs often start out conducting some or all of their trade on an ‘off-the-books’ basis and how many continue to do so once they become established, this book provides the first detailed account of the vast and ubiquitous hidden enterprise culture existing in the interstices of western economies. Until now, the role of the underground economy in enterprise creation, entrepreneurship and small business development has been largely ignored despite its widespread prevalence and importance.
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Chapter 5: Portraits of Underground Enterprise

Colin C. Williams


INTRODUCTION What different types of underground worker can be identified? And in what sectors do they work? To answer these questions, this chapter transcends the conventional focus on which population groups engage in such work and moves towards an appreciation of both the various types of underground worker and the work that they undertake. In so doing, a significant gap in the literature concerning the nature of the underground economy in western nations is filled. Conventional representations usually depict underground workers as low-paid employees working under exploitative sweatshop-like conditions. The widespread recognition that relatively affluent populations do most of this work, however, begs the question of whether it is always low-paid, exploitative and sweatshop-like in character. Although recognition that underground work is frequently conducted on an autonomous basis has hinted that such a depiction is far from the lived reality, until now, few studies have identified either the proportion of underground work conducted on an organized and autonomous basis, or attempted to differentiate the various types of autonomous work. The first section of this chapter thus seeks to answer these issues. Analysing the results of the English Localities Survey – one of the first data sets to unpack the heterogeneous character of underground work in advanced economies – this chapter will reveal first, that employees working on an off-the-books basis for formal or underground enterprises conduct only a very small proportion of all underground work and second, autonomous underground workers need to be differentiated according to their relations...

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