Trust Creation in the Informal Economy: The Case of Plastic Bag Sellers of Mwanza, Tanzania

Type Journal Article - African Sociological Review
Title Trust Creation in the Informal Economy: The Case of Plastic Bag Sellers of Mwanza, Tanzania
Volume 17
Issue 1
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2013
Page numbers 79-103
Consideration is made of the early stages of trust in a tiny political economy. The article presents
an embedded account of the social status and economic position of plastic bag sellers of Soko Kuu
market in Mwanza, Tanzania, to demonstrate the dilemmas of trust faced and the solutions
that are found. Evidence is taken from interviews with boys and young men whose profession
consists of the wholesale purchase and individual retail of different types of plastic bag in the main
market of Mwanza. The reputation and standing of bag sellers is very low, presenting a tough
challenge for maintaining networks of trust within their own professional group or when bridging
trustful relations to other economic groups. Plastic bag sellers tend to be young and bearers of a
reputation for thievery. At the same time, the fact that they achieve relatively high levels of profit
in such an informal setting presents a puzzle as to how the trust needed for all economic activity
has been secured. Acknowledging the lack of institutional guarantees for entrenching or enforcing
these relationships of trust, the phenomena of anchors of trust is identified as having supported
the early hardening of social norms between parties. Amongst plastic bag sellers, the dire need for
short change in order to make a sale ignites participation and cooperation with goods sellers, who
in turn come to distinguish between good and bad plastic bag sellers. Trust anchors are the positive
opposite to social dilemmas: opportunities for building relationships of trust, based on mutually
understood vulnerability. For future social policy attempting to grapple with the informal
economy, such zones of trust creation must be identified and worked with.

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