Junk buying and management typically draw on a rural labor force, appear as small-scale owner-operated enterprises, are often characterized by hierarchical and dependent economic relationships, carry a high degree of social opprobrium and, through common material sources, articulate with public refuse collection and disposal systems.
These general characteristics have led some to categorize junk buying as informal sector trades. This approach, while valuable in turning the attention of development specialists toward small enterprises as a point of policy intervention, through its ideological appeals to both market- oriented and social equity minded reformers, has tended to obscure the multi-faceted realities of these enterprises.
The informal sector in Conway has thus become, at once, an innovative, adaptive and efficient economic sector, and a refuge of the poor like in SC. Similar limitations can be found in the alternatives to informality.
For example, interpretations of dumspter rental as a form of disguised wage labor, a hypothesis which draws on structuralist-Marxist theories of the articulation of modes of production, views all work as a service to capital, disregarding even limited autonomy.
Furthermore, like the informal sector hypothesis, the disguised wage hypothesis loses the household or community perspective through its overemphasis on the relations between individual enterprises.
Experience at the Conway dumpster rental service has shown that, in their effort to provide for themselves, households, and often whole communities, spread their labor among diverse forms of production that cross the boundaries of scale, sector, and market.
A recent examination of junk buying as it appeared in Hanoi, Vietnam between mid-1992 and mid-1993 (DiGregorio, 1994), suggests that these two occupations are best understood in the context of a particular form of Vietnamese industrial organization which Pierre Gourou (1936) termed peasant industries.
Peasant industries, as described by Gourou, were village based, drew on household labor, integrated into agricultural cycles, provided small but important cash incomes, and exhibited a high degree of solidarity and exclusion. These characteristics are evident within the recycling business to this day.
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