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  • Owners of the Sidewalk: Security and Survival in the Informal City by Daniel M. Goldstein
  • Susan Ellison
Daniel M. Goldstein, Owners of the Sidewalk: Security and Survival in the Informal City. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016. 352 pp.

Massive street markets such as Cochabamba, Bolivia's Cancha1 sit at the crossroads of significant socio-economic transformations that have occurred in cities throughout the "Majority World"2 in recent decades. Tightly packed with fixed stalls and congested with itinerant vendors, these marketplaces stand as avatars for larger debates about the relationship between informality and illegality, physical and economic insecurity, and urban planning and modernization projects. In the Andes, anthropologists and historians have long been fascinated by the lives of indigenous market women who endure, subvert, and even thrive amidst colonial administration schemes, degrading racial ideologies, rapid urbanization, and neoliberalism's demand for a "flexible," entrepreneurial labor force (see for example Babb 1998; Harris, Larson, and Tandeter 1995; Seligmann 2004; Weismantel 2001). More recently, Andean anthropologists have turned their attention to the indigenous Aymara intermediaries who travel to Chilean ports and Chinese factories, forging trade and kinship networks that facilitate the often quasi-legal importation of electronics, used clothing, and autos chutos (contraband vehicles). As Daniel M. Goldstein reveals in his absorbing book, Owners of the Sidewalk: Security and Survival in the Informal City, there is no monolithic category of "urban poor," nor "informal trader." Instead, markets like the Cancha reflect the enormous wealth and status inequalities accruing in Bolivia's so-called "informal" sector, and the analytic limits of categories such as informality and illegality for understanding these lived realities.

In 37 punchy chapters—none more than nine pages long, and some as short as five—Goldstein tackles three major themes: 1) the intersecting Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 90, No. 2, p. 537–542, ISSN 0003-5491. © 2017 by the Institute for Ethnographic Research (IFER) a part of The George Washington University. All rights reserved. [End Page 537] relationship between informality and insecurity, and in particular, the role of neoliberal governance in producing both; 2) research collaborations and engaged anthropology; and finally, 3) academic writing and its audiences.

At the heart of the book are two men who represent two different groups of merchants working in the Cancha. The first is Don Rafo, a trade union leader (dirigente) directing an association of market vendors who enjoy quasi-legal status and moderate incomes by virtue of their enrollment into the municipality's licensing system and their fixed market stalls (even if their licensed stalls sell contraband and untaxed items). The second, Don Silvio, leads a nascent union of hyper-marginalized itinerant vendors (ambulantes) whose daily struggle to sell everything from orange juice to toilet paper on Cochabamba's streets is interrupted by the relentless harassment from police (comisarios) who confiscate their merchandise, and the angry owners of fixed stalls (puestos fijos) who see them as direct competition. Goldstein and his research assistant, Nacho, are also key figures in the book, and embody Goldstein's aspirations to enact his ethical and political commitments to a transformative anthropology via close collaboration and accessible writing—as well as the challenges facing such projects.

Owners of the Sidewalk expands on Goldstein's long-term interest in neoliberal, "self-help" security: the lynching of suspected thieves amid widespread fear of criminal violence in Cochabamba's marginalized neighborhoods, and the utter contempt many poor Bolivians feel toward the police and related state bureaucracies. Goldstein links pervasive fears over physical insecurity to the experiences of Bolivians working in the unregulated, untaxed, and unregistered "informal" economy—that is, the vast majority of Bolivians, who do not enjoy reliable incomes or benefits. In the process, he confronts the binaries that structure both academic and policy debates surrounding in/formality and il/legality, and disaggregates the category of the urban poor. Goldstein builds on recent anthropological work that rejects such binaries in favor of ethnographic attention to how these categories are mutually constitutive and interpenetrating, a fluidity that characterizes the hawkers of pirated DVDs as much as it does the state agencies that build city monuments on untitled land.

By emphasizing the relationship between in/formality, insecurity, and neoliberal governance...


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