« Strategizing, Struggling and Negotiating within the Context of Market Formalization: an Empirical Study in Yaoundé, Cameroon »

The oral defense will be held on Wednesday, October 4th, 4pm (room 1112)

The Defense Committee is composed of :
Professor Ignasi Marti Lanuza, (Principal Supervisor)
Professor David Courpasson, (Committee Chair)
Professor Miguel Rivera-Santos, (External Advisor)
Professor Johanna Mair, (External Advisor)

How do micro-entrepreneurs negotiate the requirements of formalization rules that at times conflict with the demands of their commercial activities and their ability to provide for the basic needs of their family? We use the case of the rehabilitation of the city of Yaoundé, Cameroon to examine efforts from meso level institutions to build market infrastructures that are expected to boost local entrepreneurship and contribute to the overall development to the city. Our inductive qualitative study explores the dynamism of the responses to the pressure to formalize at the micro-level. We raised three research questions that enable us to tackle three different but related aspects of the meaning of formalization on the ground level: How do actors respond to the removal of institutional voids in a market? How do actors whose behaviors are singled out as immoraHow do l resist and develop or render explicit alternative moralities, based on other kinds of orders of worth? How does the political environment constraint resurgence within an abeyance structure?

Our data consist of primary data such as 52 tape-recorded interviews lasting about an hour each, 26 spontaneous interviews lasting about 10 minutes each that were not recorded, as well as ethnographic observations notes taken during a combined 45 days of field work between 2014 and 2015. The field work occurred at the Yaoundé City Council (YCC) and at six carefully selected marketplaces. In addition, we have secondary data such as newspapers from the local press dating from 2004 to 2015 that we collected using FACTIVA. We also collected press releases, work documents and reports, and entrepreneurs data from the YCC‘s document center. Altogether, the secondary data amount to over a thousand pages. The data analysis followed an inductive approach, which was relevant for interesting and unexpected findings to emerge from the data.

In response to our first research question, we find that informal micro-entrepreneurs respond to the removal of institutional voids following three main categories: some street vendors and peddlers accept the new rules, some reject them, while others try to negotiate them daily as they go about their commercial activities. Our findings show that such responses are associated with different profiles of entrepreneurs which can be linked to how street vendors and peddlers originally adapted to the institutional voids. Finally, we show how the realized formalization rules differ from the enacted ones after they are “inhabited” and thereby negotiated by the entrepreneurs. We contribute to the literature on institutional voids by pointing to the importance of the understudied phenomenon of the removal of the voids. We also contribute to the literature of informal entrepreneurship by linking the choice to formality or informality to different profiles of informal micro-entrepreneurs.

For our second research question, our analysis suggests a set of formalization rules that have direct relevance for moral regulation in the observed markets. Our results show that the local government acts as a moral entrepreneur and devises three sets of activities to moralize marketplaces: building moral infrastructures, dividing practices, as well as educating and controlling. We find out that that markets actors use tactics such as: making the fix, which a temporary solution to save face, making the pass, which is a tactic to transfer blame to other groups, accepting immorality by embracing the given status as well as its associated consequences as long as it allows them to make ends meet. They use claiming strength as a final tactic that enabled them connect their street vending status to greater societal changes and issues. This paper contributes the literature on the morality of the market by showing how a project of moral regulation of market behavior is lived by entrepreneurs and how how they resist daily in order to create an alternative morality.

Finally, we look at the path to social movement abeyance so as to better understand the dynamism within abeyance as well as the likelihood of future insurgency. We find that abeyance structures are inhabited by the remnants of past struggles, which translate into backstage resistance by the activists and backstage repression by their challengers. This backstage confrontation is the pillar of what we refer to as abeyance order; which is a system in equilibrium but with cracks that carry the hopes of future insurgency. We contribute to social movement literature by shedding lights on the understudied phenomenon of the decline of social movements. We show how the external political environment practically constrains the ability of activists in engaging in collective action.

This thesis research project shows the role of formalization in removing institutional void, in moralizing markets and settling conflicts at the marketplaces. Our findings show that the micro-entrepreneurs negotiate the requirements of formalization rules that at times conflict with the demands of their commercial activities and their ability to provide for the basic needs of their family by accepting, rejecting or negotiating new rules that clash with their traditional arrangements based on their profiles and aspirations. Secondly, they play around rules that question their morality and values by pushing forward and alternative order of worth. Finally, despite the official settlement of the negotiations and conflicts between the formalizers and the formalized, individual and collective small acts of resistance that sow the seeds for the possibility for future insurgency. This study contributes to the literature on market creation by showing the role of formalization in establishing new markets infrastructures and rules of the game. Our study conducted in Yaoundé, Cameroon also contributes empirically to the socio political dynamics of market creation in institutionally different contexts.