Managed Informality: Regulating Street Vendors in Bangkok

Quentin Batréau & Francois Bonnet

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Batréau, Q. & Bonnet, F. (1). Managed Informality: Regulating Street Vendors in Bangkok. City & Community, 15(1), 29–43.

enforcement , Informal market , informality , legal system , police , regulation , securitization , sidewalk , street vending , thetsakits

The article focuses on the relationship between street vendors and local authorities in Bangkok. We examine the goals, the means, and the effects of everyday regulation of street vending. We document how the district administration produces and maintains informality by creating a parallel set of rules where street vendors enjoy negligible rents and little competition. We provide detailed empirical evidence on earnings, rents, fines, and rules regarding commercial real estate. The district administration’s policy of “managed informality” results in a situation where more established informal vendors control less established ones. We hypothesize in the conclusion that the district administration’s parallel legal system adjusts to the population’s expectations in a political system where the law has little popular support.

Main finding
The district administration in Bangkok uses tiers of informality to regulate the social order between residents and vendors in order to circumvent national anti-street vending laws that attempt to maintain orderliness and cleanliness in the streets. Vendors mobilize to protect themselves and increase their economic opportunities in the absence of law, helping the administration implement the informal rules by disciplining deviant vendors. This managed informality keeps implementation costs for the district administration low while balancing a delicate social order: vendors make money, the street is orderly, and street food is kept affordable.

Description of method used in the article
The first author conducted a four-month-long case study, involving four hours per day of direct observation for six days a week for a total of 384 hours. Significant time was spent socializing and building trust with street vendors, and field notes were taken systematically to record the location, time, and date of each observation. Forty-two semi-structured interviews were also conducted using an interview guide. The guide was modified to include additional information that was discovered during the course of the study. The author interviewed forty vendors and two district officials over a six-week period.

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