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Contextualising informality in the South African labour market: Indicators of the limits to evidence-based research?

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Corporate author/s:

Rhodes University; Labour Market Intelligence Partnership (LMIP), Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET)

Person/s author/s:

Fryer, David


working paper



This paper addresses the following: how do we begin to understand informality (and related concepts like unemployment) in context? This is vitally important considering how significant informality (particularly informality at the base of buyer-driven commodity chains) is becoming. The paper starts by foregrounding the question of why we are interested in informality. It argues that although the 'empirical agenda' has made great progress in painting a LMIP Working Paper 7 3 portrait of the labour market, it faces diminishing returns precisely because of the difficulties posed by the conceptual framework. This illustrates the limitation of 'evidence based' research that does not continually refresh its conceptual basis. The paper briefly turns to the question of conceptualisation. It suggests that 'orthodox' conceptions, which see the informal sector as primarily 'evolutionary', are characterised by the same basic problem as the 'empirical agenda': trying to impose a preconceived conceptual framework that neither fits the 'facts' nor exhibits internal consistency. Alternative conceptions (grouped together for convenience under the label 'varieties of capitalism') are more promising.

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