- Owners of the Sidewalk: Security and Survival in the Informal City by Daniel M. Goldstein
In Owners of the Sidewalk: Security and Survival in the Informal City, Daniel Goldstein takes the reader on multiple journeys. First, he provides a tour of the Cancha, an enormous outdoor market located in Cochabamba, Bolivia. In an engaging and descriptive narrative, Goldstein allows us to see, smell, and hear the Cancha and meet its many residents. Second, he details the many forms of insecurity that the Cancha's vendors face. Finally, Goldstein showcases his own ethnographic tribulations; the book is as much an exploration of market vendors' security and survival as it is an exposé of the twists and turns of anthropological research. Owners of the Sidewalk is a lively read that will appeal to Latin American specialists in multiple disciplines and to students of ethnographic research.
Owners of the Sidewalk reveals that insecurity in Bolivia's informal economy is pervasive and multifaceted. In thirty-seven short chapters, Goldstein traces the activities of two groups of Cancha vendors — the comerciantes de puesto fijo, who have permanent market stalls, and the comerciantes ambulantes, or street vendors — and the struggle between them for control over market space. He shows that both types of vendors experience daily insecurity, such as being victims of crime and dealing with corrupt police, albeit to different degrees.
Goldstein documents that the lack of access to state resources is the single biggest contributor to market vendors' insecurity. However, this fact does not mean that the state is absent in the Cancha; conversely, "the state is partially but not helpfully present" (6). Certain kinds of legal regulation, such as rules on who can sell what, where, and when, make the vendors' lives harder, especially for the ambulantes, while the lack of other regulations can create precarious working conditions. Goldstein calls this process "disregulation" (7) to explain the haphazardness of state regulation of the Cancha. As Goldstein argues, government disregulation created the Cancha's conditions of informality and insecurity, therefore the "insecurity of informal spaces [are] historically produced, structural phenomenon… [that] have been configured over long periods of urban growth and state formation" (8). Since the Cancha's informal economy is an (un)intentional state creation, Goldstein questions the stark distinction between the formal and informal economy — the former as ordered and regulated and the latter as chaotic and unregulated.
Goldstein also documents the fijos' and ambulantes' struggles to make their existence more orderly and secure. The vendors do exercise agency, as the Cancha's own informality allows people to challenge existing rules [End Page 633] and carve out space for themselves and their wares. Since the state offers little in the way of financial, physical, or infrastructural security to vendors, they create alternative forms of authority, such as unions or trade federations, to enhance their commercial power and advocate for protections and political rights. These competing organizations cause conflict between fijos and ambulantes despite the fact that they have many similar complaints.
In documenting these struggles and conflicts, Goldstein weaves his methodology into the story. We follow Goldstein as he meets with union leaders, connects with vendors, and promises to document the causes of insecurity to help the fijos and ambulantes solve their problems. The research project's twists and turns unfold before our eyes. Goldstein describes field-work's hazards, such as unexpected drunkenness due to a collaborator's generosity, having to bribe officials, and being encouraged by his research partners to pay for conferences and luncheons. Yet unlike some other ethnographies that centre the researcher's experiences, this one does not feel contrived or self-congratulatory. Instead, Goldstein lays bare the trials and tribulations of "engaged" or "activist" ethnographic research. This research methodology, in Goldstein's words, is based on a commitment to helping collaborators achieve their own social and political goals. Indeed, Goldstein spends much of the book describing fulfilling the promises that he made to his collaborators, including publishing a...