If you could see me doing my work, says Rashid . . . you would see a completely other Rashid. You know, he says, for me working is as natural as breathing.
— Jenny Erpenbeck, Go Went Gone
In adult life, work is a way of shaping purpose. In its most expansive sense, work is a form of meaning-making, a dynamic means of participating in social and cultural life and connecting to people and place.1 Work is also routine—rudimentary or stultifying, but not without the possibilities of forming personhood. Work is more than labor. Rashid, a fictional but urgently emblematic figure of an asylum seeker who is held hostage to the confines of asylum limbo, captures how a prohibition on work is the denial of the possibility of purpose, the consignment to another self. What, then, is work in the edge territories? As the political economy of displacement hurtles toward the variants of casualization and self-employment, longer hours are required for less pay, and employment-related social securities are in demise. In engaging with how street proprietors scrape prospects together in the far-flung parts of cities, I explore the practices of work and meaning-making in the margins. On the street, work must be pursued outside of the usual channels of formal employment and access to capital, and in relation with customers who themselves are struggling. Accessing, making, and holding on to work emerges in a messy coalescence of transnational ties, border prohibitions, and economic adaptations.
Thinking about work in the edge territories requires asking what else in adult life, and in the places of work and home, is restricted when access to work is increasingly fragmented or unavailable. Edge economies are located in the expanding terrain of redundancies and casualized employment; they surface where the effects of the dispossession of work are most likely to be located, and they reveal who is most likely to be affected. Ruth Wilson Gilmore’s encapsulation of “landscapes of disaccumulation” steers us toward linking the projects of urban industrialization and deindustrialization. Here the reshaping of labor hierarchies reveals how “race” and racism are also spatially produced.2 In Gilmore’s frame it is not only a landscape that is disaccumulated, but a people: a dispossession of stability and self. Understanding the everyday resonances of disaccumulation means placing casualization as the market’s disinvestment in labor alongside austerity as the state’s disinvestment in citizens. The idea of the “expendability” of an “edge population” as surplus to capital is advanced in enduring forms of racial capitalism where the prospects of fully fledged employment and fully fledged public services are curtailed.3
In telling the story of varied street livelihoods in the urban peripheries, there is a risk of limiting our understanding of work precarities to an innate narrative of deficit predetermined by the normative frames of jobs, employment, and unemployment.4 Conceiving of a world of work in the edge territories requires an up-close engagement with working lives in which social memberships and spatial mediations are integral to living with precarity. Explorations that engage with the durable “provisionality” of work outside of Western epistemologies point to the permanent impermanence that prevails in the working life of the “majority world” and the capricious negotiations required for making do.5 This is crucial for understanding street livelihoods neither as an informal appendage to the city nor as a linear by-product of advanced capitalism. Edge economies are compositions of emerging ways of making meaning through circumventions of obstructive regulations and daily formations of the unheroic acts of getting by.6 On the street, the prevailing urban logic of displacement, which pushes the edge further and further to the periphery and exacerbates precarious forms of living in the city, does not go entirely unchecked. It produces what Myfanwy Taylor identifies as “contested urban economies” as struggles for alternatives unfold.7 The active forging of a wide range of alternatives is accomplished through concerted efforts from profiteering and exploitation, to collaboration, to care.
This chapter focuses on the social economies of “race,” place, and migration that emerge on Rookery Road in Birmingham and Cheetham Hill in Manchester. The visceral nature of street transactions is loosely curated in interactions between proprietors, itinerant traders, internet operators, remittance brokers, accountants, lawyers, estate agents, job-training providers, religious caregivers, and health practitioners.8 Expanding on the restrictions and openings of street work in the edge territories therefore requires agitating the all-too-singular ascriptions of “the” economy as well as “the” entrepreneur. On the street, vast quantities of convenience goods are bought and sold. English-language tests are processed, and driving license and security guard accreditations are conducted. Welfare forms and a variety of immigration-related procedures are prepared through form-filling economies that rapidly respond to the climate of austerity and the stringent antimigration policies that followed in the wake of the 2014 Immigration Act. Churches, mosques, and gurdwaras have expanded their provision of care and counsel to fill the widening gaps left by a receding state. Betting shops continue to prosper. “Day by day entrepreneurial dexterity” where “anything and everything has the propensity for negotiation” gives rise to wide repertoires of hustle integral to surviving in “the thin margins of society.”9 Valuable explorations of hustling as “a collective condition of individual insecurity” draw on the irregular formats of here-and-there work occasioned across the city.10 Hustling extends to wider acts of navigating precarious urban environments, invoking light-footed, quick-minded, ever-adaptive rhythms of urban life. Such are the modalities required within the apparently regular conditions of brick-and-mortar shop spaces on streets in the edge territories.
The previous chapter highlighted ways that the spatial texture of edge territories reveals the emplacement of certain migrants in certain parts of the city, where policy-driven diversification is formative. In this chapter I connect the racialized patterns of work to enduring morphologies of marginalization. I trace the path from “textile mills to taxi ranks” following the circuit of wage labor in declining factories to the reduced wages of self-employment.11 Bringing the urban into the analysis of edge economies also prompts a recognition of how the material aspects of the street co-constitute economic relations.12 In Birmingham and Manchester, low-cost and low-rent row houses originally built for factory workers and integral to the once industrial landscapes of UK cities provide a dense fabric to the high street. Density is core to the viability of street trade, with high footfalls of people essential to street economies, but it is also a density shaped by overcrowding and the limited availability of social resources. Within the spaces of the street and shop are visceral ways of seeing the urban and “unlearning the city,” moving past the conventional representations of deprivation categorized from above to pay attention to sociomaterial makings in place.13
Rookery Road in Birmingham and Cheetham Hill in Manchester sit outside their respective city centers within places where the planning scrutiny of entrepreneurial practices is not always particularly high but where street policing, such as shop raids on “illegal” migrant workers and racial profiling through “stop and search” targeting, is ongoing.14 Land values remain comparatively low, and formal regeneration efforts, where they exist, are lackluster. Such streets are footholds that provide a newcomer’s provisional purchase into the city and are the eternal stopgap filled by those surviving in the edge territories. The precarious footings of these street economies are core to their incremental nature. Piece-by-piece patching together of resources produces improvised forms of inhabitation that are just as connected to the making of home as they are to the making of work. Substantial energies go into sourcing, scrimping, and combining resources. It is an economic repertoire that is predicated on being underresourced, its incremental nature emerging in social and spatial forms. Such repertoires of provisionality generate a multitude of configurations and cooperations, recalibrating ideas of ownership, tenure, lending, buying, and transacting.15 Crucially, Alexander Vasudevan expands on how “the makeshift city” provides an optic for comprehending associated forms of precarity and agency that transcend a North/South binary.16
There is analytic mileage in connecting the urban optic of the makeshift to Satnam Virdee’s emphasis on “the self-activity of racialised minorities in reshaping the adverse circumstances they find themselves in.”17 I start by tracing the array of experiments required to establish more-varied systems of tenure and less-institutional avenues for accessing and sustaining capital, alongside slower processes of shaping space. Rana, who grew up near Rookery Road, has watched the gradual building of the gurdwara temple near the street and comments, “We’ve built our space over the years, growing our membership. Each time we get more capital we extend our building, always adding, adding.” It is not simply that as funds are slowly accumulated, additions and renovations are carried out, but that the makeshift process allows for social networks to be maintained and updated alongside the constant reimagining of the role of the gurdwara. From the street outside you can read the temple’s additive composition, its piecemeal materiality reflecting its adaptive social capacity. These forms of self-activity may well sit outside of Virdee’s focus on trade-union activism, workplace groupings, sympathetic left-wing councillors, and the equal opportunity policies forged in the 1980s and 1990s in the context of waged labor. But the dynamic nature of makeshift repertoires needs recognition in contemporary contexts where councillors are captive to austerity, where unchecked market pressures are forcing rises in urban land values, and where 15 percent of the national labor force is estimated to be self-employed. The rapid growth in self-employment in the UK between 2001 and 2016 is characterized by a near doubling in the number of part-time self-employed workers. This is accompanied by significantly less pay in self-employment when compared to employees across all sectors of work.18 The billowing feature of employment fragmentation, disproportionately higher in marginalized parts of cities such as Birmingham and Manchester, needs to be understood through the details of emerging forms of “self-activity” and “makeshift” city-making. For the edge economies of Rookery Road and Cheetham Hill, this raises key questions. Where and with whom does self-employment manifest? What are the local specificities of land values, regeneration agendas, and disinvestment politics? How are social networks and cultural institutions deployed as part of a repertoire of resistance against inequality and racism?
Locating Edge Economies
Three related footings have helped me to understand street transactions beyond the official economy. First, edge economies are dynamic and are defined but not wholly confined by structures of labor and territory. They emerge through layers of industrialization, deindustrialization, redundancy, and casualization, and while their operation tends toward diffusion through self-employment and family ties, their organizational form is not corporatized. This is important for thinking about modes of adaptation, including how capital circulates and at what scales collaboration and exploitation occur. Second, transactions appear as local but are constituted by wider interdependencies that are not reducible to the global; they reveal how migration continues to shape the urban periphery and how repertoires of multiculture are required to sustain exchange. Third, street livelihoods are intricately varied and reliant on social care and cultural prowess as much as economic savvy. On the street, social economies of repair become particularly visible when processes of displacement heighten, as evident in the combined effects of migration control and austerity governance. Place provides the lens and the locus to weave these multiple threads together. Sharad Chari and Vinay Gidwani call for “an active conception of spatial processes in remaking place . . . and the role of the making and remakings of space in the ethnographic study of work.”19 Building on the legacy of Henri Lefebvre, they expand on the social dynamics of work and how work configures and is configured by place.
One key route into recognizing edge economies on the street is their diverse nature, which goes well beyond a range of practices connected to economic turnover. Gibson-Graham recognize “diverse economies” as the varied transactions that range from care and unpaid labor, to cooperatives, to social well-being, to international networks that transmit small-scale and translocal remittances.20 Their political emphasis is on the possibility of postcapitalist or noncapitalist forms of economy that are not tied to profit but are orchestrated around trust. But what of the edge economies that may exhibit some of these cooperative aspects but are also tied into more of the bristle and hustle of getting by? Street economies are organized around profit, but practices of care are evident on Rookery Road and Cheetham Hill, and these social transactions are at times pragmatic and provisional. The pragmatisms of cooperation are a resource of pushback when operating within profound uncertainty. Social and economic experiments tend to emerge in response to pressing circumstances, such as reductions in social welfare and escalations in the regulatory hoops associated with stringent migration regulation. The literatures immersed in precarious edge territories allow us to understand such prosaic alignments alongside solidarities of resistance, whether in Birmingham, Bogotá, Karachi, Accra, or Johannesburg.21 In this chapter I will expand on, as one key example, the growth of “form-filling economies” on the street in relation to the increasingly bureaucratic requirements of welfare and citizenship. The social life of such economic experimentation tends to occur through up-close, face-to-face circuits of trust. During our research, insights into these activities only developed through engagement beyond standardized vocabularies of what counts as cooperation or retail activity. In order to have an inkling of their makeup, we were required to supplement the survey with more extended conversations and observations.
The importance of the diverse economies to which Gibson-Graham call our attention is also shaped through the wide sources of know-how that influence where ideas come from, how value is understood, when bartering or favors are extended, and when a line is drawn.22 The critical perspective of feminist political economy inserts into the idea of diverse economies the need to decenter “economic geography’s subject, ‘the West,’ and its Other; the global South,” elaborating on the postcolonial practices and values of emerging economies outside of Western-centric frames of analysis.23 Transactions on Rookery Road and Cheetham Hill challenge the idea that cities of the Global North are discrete centers operating as primary economic engines within highly regulated state structures of accumulation and distribution. They also destabilize the notion that advanced urban economies emerge, grow, and are sustained from the singular constitution of “the West.” Edge economies comprise multiple flows and planetary intersections of resources, people, and ideas that produce diverse forms of self-interest, labor, and cooperation. This perspective lends impetus to writing the street as world, where an interconnectedness actively shapes the material and spatial qualities of economic practice. Similarly, the narrow confines of town-center planning and retail viability fixate on high street turnover versus vacancy, shopping centers versus streets, chains versus independents, and online versus offline. There is little room for engaging with either cultural and economic diversity in these established frames of reference, or with more itinerant forms of city-making that emerge on the street.
Diversely formed street economies are nonetheless contested economies; they remain situated in a global conjuncture of rising inequality, enhanced bordering, and enduring racism. Here it is crucial to understand how these crises unfold at street level and how the street’s emergent economies in part reproduce stark social differences.24 In exploring the economic and civic life of transactions I therefore also engage with how turbulence is experienced and mediated through the street. Our research on Rookery Road and Cheetham Hill occurred in 2015, intersecting with the UK national elections in which migration, far more than rising inequalities, was placed at the forefront by an overwhelmingly conservative political consensus. Since the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the political centralization of far-right politics now prominent across Europe, a highly charged political atmosphere that sponsors xenophobia has filtered into pronounced everyday racisms on the street, in the neighborhood, and at work.25 Congruently, the brutal impacts of austerity governance introduced in 2010 were apparent on all of the streets we explored, evidencing how “since the arrival of the Coalition Government a bad situation has deteriorated with the drastic culling of the existing support system.”26 Multiethnic high streets in edge territories are therefore variegated and unstable resources that are sustained by the preservation of group ideologies and interests as well as the partial yet crucial acts of care and counsel beyond self or group. These streets are what Ash Amin describes as a “lively infrastructure” of shared circumstances, remote from an ideological or “symbolic infrastructure” of cultural assimilation.27 As this chapter progresses, I explore what forms of space and modes of practice are deployed in times of crisis, and how cross-cultural reserves are developed to provide care in the context of austerity. I challenge an essentialized orientation of ethnicity in understanding street economies, as well as the categorization of economic activity along sectorial lines.
“Our People Have Always Been in Recession”
“Innocent convicted; Poor wage, hard labour; Only Babylon prospers; And humble suffer” are part of the lyrics to “Handsworth Revolution,” released by Steel Pulse in 1978.28 The reggae song pays tribute to the suffering and antiracist solidarity of those living in Handsworth, and speaks to the continuities of police violence and insurrection in the urban margins across UK cities.29 Rookery Road is located in Handsworth in the northwest margins of Birmingham. It emerged in the “twilight zone” of the industrial city, sustained by class structures and migrant labor in edge territories that were and are overcrowded and overpoliced.30 Frictions over housing and work and tensions in relation to exploitation and inequality define the inner struggles and outer protests that are integral to Handsworth’s presence. Over the decades race-related violence and urban uprisings have occurred in Handsworth, highlighted by resident and academic Kehinde Andrews as simmering socioeconomic tensions sustained by active state disinvestment and competition for limited resources.31 Pusan, an activist engaged in migrant heritage in Birmingham, explains, “They throw us a few scraps and we are left to fight over them.” This is one way in which crises are grounded on the street and where differences are actively reproduced. Rana, who grew up in Handsworth and describes himself as “a political animal,” says: “There were at least four riots in Handsworth and Birmingham that I can remember. The last one was in 2011. Community tensions were high after three young Asian lads got run over in Dudley Road. I can’t express how angry the South-Asian community was against the Afro-Caribbean community. It was a very scary time. I still don’t think that it’s healed.”32 The concepts of “edge territories” and “edge economies” are also ways to think through differentiation and therefore require engaging with the entangled coproduction of friction, racism, and conviviality formed within a context of profound systemic violence.
In August 2011 protests broke out on streets across towns and cities across the UK. The protests were provoked in response to the fatal shooting of Mark Duggan by the police in Tottenham, London. The shooting was neither a local nor an isolated incident and was connected to violent forms of profiling and policing that have had disproportionate impacts on racial punishment and death. The unrest was simultaneously situated in relation to sustained police targeting of racialized minority ethnic groups, including the aggressions associated with “stop and search” policing. The Reading the Riots research conducted extended interviews with those who had participated in the unrest in 2011. The vast majority confirmed that “policing was an ‘important’ or ‘very important’ factor for why the riots happened. . . . Rioters identified a number of other motivating grievances, from the increase in tuition fees, to the closure of youth services and the scrapping of the education maintenance allowance. Many complained about perceived social and economic injustices.”33 Adam Elliott-Cooper extends the analysis of the experience of police violence and related urban uprisings, revealing how the “spatialisation of racial violence, and resistance to it, lead to places becoming racialised.” In this way, Handsworth and Tottenham are places where racialization has occurred over a long time period, saturating the practices of resistance as much as the forms of representation.34
The notion of “structural violence” compels us to engage with the multiple processes of diminution, and by 2011 the impacts of austerity governance had become tangible and visible.35 Cuts to education and youth services had also prompted sustained nationwide student protests and university sit-ins. Five additional deaths occurred across the six days of unrest in August 2011, including the three young men who were reportedly guarding shops and were run over by a car and killed in Dudley Road in Birmingham’s city center. Ajmal Hussain, Birmingham resident and academic, reflects:
When the riots came to Birmingham, things soon turned ugly. Overnight, the focus shifted from rioting youth and police inefficacy to three deaths and the prospect of inter-ethnic violence. . . . The tragic deaths of three Asian men immediately ignited fears of a reprisal: though no one yet knew who was responsible for the incident on Dudley Road, we were told to brace ourselves for a repeat of the conflict that hit Lozells during Ramadan 2005. Inter-ethnic violence between the city’s black and Asian populations seemed to be on the horizon.
More than “race,” what shapes relations within different groups in this area of Birmingham is a complex mix of socio-economic, historical and political factors. This is most apparent in the way black and Asian people, young and old, feel their interests are represented. The potential for conflict is as apparent as a desire to fashion a better future. The default position for community leaders has been to stress the former.36
In thinking through the life and livelihoods on streets like Rookery Road, it is crucial to explore how crises are structured, what social differences are produced, and how shared resources are deployed to live with the volatility of inequality and racism. Who depends on whom, where is blame cast, and in what ways are the fragments recomposed or further fractured? In the 1950s and 1960s the British government recruited large numbers of migrants from the Commonwealth to participate in the rebuilding of the depressed postwar economy. Living within the realities of an “actively regulated and racialised” migratory process, migrants were emplaced in the twilight zones and experienced everyday racisms.37 While thousands of migrants arrived in Birmingham during the 1950s and 1960s, a study conducted in the mid-1960s revealed that an estimated 80 percent of the city’s population indicated they would not rent a room to a migrant.38 In 1964 the Conservative MP Peter Griffiths won the seat in Smethwick, four miles east of Birmingham, in an election campaign oriented on the slogan “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Liberal or Labour.” Such experiences were combated through a variety of antiracist solidarities that extended within and across trade-union movements, civic associations, religious infrastructures, and constitutions of family. Rana describes this through his parents’ entry into the city:
My parents came to Birmingham from the Punjab in the 1960s. They were invited by the British government. . . . We came as working-class laborers. We were the so-called low caste—the leather merchants. They worked in the foundries and textile industries, and they lived in areas like Handsworth that was cheap [sic]. My father bought a three-bedroom terrace house for £3,000. They were work-focused, with a strongly indoctrinated family ethos. At that time, caste-based issues were put aside to rally against discrimination here.
A distinctive feature of the conjunctural crises of our time and place is the disproportionate impact of the recent Great Recession in edge territories compounded by a growing national politics of denizenship. By focusing on how such crises are grounded in street livelihoods, one is able to trace the lines of racism and discrimination that shape the practices of work from the 1960s through to the present day. Some 86 percent of shops on Rookery Road are independent—tied neither to franchises nor chains—reflecting the high proportion of self-employed retailers. While these independent proprietors may be described as entrepreneurs, the dominant presence of independent retail in all streets we researched needs to be understood through the greater likelihood that those categorized as “minority ethnic groups” would be self-employed than those categorized as “white British.” The distinctive formation of self-employment in the edge territories has a historical lineage. In explaining the emergence of the South Asian restaurant Balti-Quarter in Birmingham, for example, researchers defined Birmingham in the 1960s as “the quintessential industrial city” within a major regional manufacturing hub that employed two-thirds of the labor force in the West Midlands region. Job losses following deindustrialization fell disproportionately not only on the so-called less skilled individuals lacking formal qualifications but also, and more specifically, on immigrant workers: “In Britain this elimination of many of the very jobs for which migrant workers had been recruited directly affects the supply of South Asian entrepreneurs, since many from this displaced mass of surplus workers have sought survival in self-employment.”39 Similarly, as explored in the previous chapter, on Narborough Road the impact of job losses following the recent Great Recession was significant for those working in the public sector. In cities such as Birmingham and Leicester, “Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic” groups are significantly represented in the public sector, albeit differentially, with resultant job losses following state austerity measures. Thus the culturalist perspective of the “immigrant entrepreneur” requires more footing within the volatile structures of the economy and the associated labor market.
A year into our research project, in 2016, I met with Ajmal and Pusan at an Eritrean restaurant close to Rookery Road, and I asked what they perceived as the significant effects of the economic crisis. Pusan looked at Ajmal, raised his eyebrow, and replied, “Our people have always been in recession.” Pusan’s pithy clarity that I previously referred to in the introduction, points me to the durable rather than cyclical structures that restrict access to work and finance on the basis of racial exclusion. For Pusan this inescapable reality translates into alternative pursuits for making work and accessing start-up capital for small businesses:
PUSAN: Why are our people in business, is because the system failed us. I used to work in the system. You’re different. In these systems you can’t control who you are, you can’t control your autonomy.
SUZANNE: So how would people get access to finance to start a business?
PUSAN: Businesses start off with a very low base. Bangladeshi catering businesses often come about by grouping together. We lend money together. There’s no interest. It’s expected, it’s not a big deal. It’s a code to survive.
AJMAL: Some get formal loans with their good credit rating and loan on behalf of someone else. In some Pakistani communities they have committees, five or ten people will get together to save and borrow. The scales shift from the Auntyji upwards.
PUSAN: Also, look at what it takes to set up. (He points to the restaurant we are sitting in). We start with a few plastic chairs and tables and we go from there.
Pusan and Ajmal articulate a process of incrementally making the city that is socially derived through an economy of means. In making do with less, incremental practices emerge within arrangements of negotiating, lending, borrowing, and building. In the density of these multiple compositions a thick urban realm emerges, in shapes and modes built on circumventing already-established structures. The approach to the makeshift city and incremental processes of city-making encourages a focus on structures of discrimination, but not without understanding the significant variations in detail. Transaction economies on Rookery Road arise within a historical context of deprivation and discrimination, but it is crucial to attend to the range of economic practices among the 157 retail and services units on Rookery Road. Rookery Road responds to the quotidian rhythms of its surrounding neighborhood, and food-oriented goods and services make up approximately one-third of street retail. The mile-long street, fronted as much by residential as by retail use, is interspersed with what were primarily the front rooms of homes, some of which have been converted for micro-business activities, car-repair garages, clinics, estate agencies, nail salons, barbershops, and money-transfer facilities (Figure 11).
Approximately one-third of traders have been on the street for twenty years or more, while another third have been on the street for five years or less. This range of temporalities indicates a mix of personal commitments, spatial investments, and local know-how that makes up a combination of relatively stable and emergent retail energies. Within these fluctuating settings, notions of belonging are also attached to varied temporalities. Tariq, who is an established proprietor on Rookery Road, points out his perceptions of new flows of migrants to the neighborhood: “You used to be able to count on one hand the places people were from, now you have no idea. There are people from so many places, there are so many different languages and nationalities.” For Tariq, the street’s older layers of migration were tied to Britain’s colonial history, as exemplified by emigration from South Asia and the Caribbean. Tariq went on to highlight the recent gatherings of men outside the newly opened chain betting shop as a marked signifier of change on the street. He comments with some annoyance, “When my parents came, they came by sea, and they came to stay. They learnt the language, and they invested in the community here. Today you’ve got the ‘EasyJet migrants.’ They can come without their families, and they don’t have to build connections here. They can come and go, come and go.”
Together these varied spaces and temporalities materialize in an apparently banal assortment of day-to-day shops and ways of being public. What is known colloquially as the “Kurdish Barber,” on Rookery Road, is open six days a week and is usually full. When we spoke with Joe, the proprietor, all three of the seats in his small shop were occupied by men who regularly partake in the routine of hair and beard trims. Joe says:
Some customers come in once a week, but normally it’s three times a month. A good mix of ages come in, mostly locals. I started back in 1991, you didn’t need much capital and the rental was pretty low. I didn’t have any business training. And I don’t have a card machine. Basically, I’ve kept it simple. Nothing’s complex. I got no aspirations for big empires. I’m pretty communal, I know most customers by name. My neighbors know me and I know them. I know a lot of people around here. I’ve had the same landlord since 1991; he won’t sell me the business. The rents have trebled since I first came, but I’m included in a band of lower income where I’m not paying business rates to the council. It’s a massive help.
Despite the council’s reprieve on business rates and taxes for shops that have low turnovers of profit, a few doors down, the secondhand furniture shop—one of the long-standing enterprises on the street—struggles to make ends meet. Further up the street a shop that appears to sell balloons and greeting cards is the front-room presence for a substantial business that has grown from its diminutive base on the street to provide two generations with work related to large-scale corporate events and family celebrations. The apparent down-at-the-heels materiality of Rookery Road belies its economic role. In an area with high levels of unemployment, the stretch of tightly packed frontages forms a crucial strip of employment activity. Of the sixty-six traders that responded to the “number of employees” section in our street survey, we were able to establish an average of three to four jobs per unit. Rookery Road has 157 units (excluding the residential units), of which 23 were vacant, which we extrapolated to approximately 456 jobs. While 40 percent of these jobs were held by family members of the proprietor, 60 percent were reportedly held by nonfamily employees. How are we to interpret the significant numbers of livelihoods sustained on these bread-and-butter streets? On the one hand, the structural reality of durable inequalities and discrimination across edge economies is such that Trevor Jones et al. articulate the “downbeat reality” of migrant entrepreneurial performance. They describe work conditions associated with the absence of employment contracts, long working hours, and the reliance on family labor.40 However, Rookery Road and Cheetham Hill are also multifarious systems of employment for those excluded from more formalized sectors of employment. Urban street trade remains a difficult yet productive modus operandi for diasporic and relegated groups living in marginalized conditions, and we were aware of the range of stable and itinerant work practices. On street pavements or within storefronts, phone-card operators worked from rudimentary cubicles the size of a table dealing in the small and highly competitive dimensions of phone cards to call abroad. Alongside their precarious presence, large-scale family businesses with multiple employees and shelves stacked with products assert a robust street economy. Such varied street livelihoods will invariably become more significant in “landscapes of disaccumulation,” and urban researchers will need to be better versed in comprehending the varied dimensions of the makeshift.
When we met with planners at Birmingham City Council one year after our street research, we were keen to share our findings and to understand how planners interpreted the socioeconomic values of streets like Rookery Road. At one point in our discussion, Khar, a senior planner, rolled out a large map of Birmingham and pointed to the many local high streets and town centers that were stretched out in a spiderweb pattern across the fabric of Birmingham. He said:
You’ll see we have seventy-seven designated local centers, which are all street-oriented. They are all important to the local communities they are in. We are about to refresh our approach to local centers, thinking about the role of micro-businesses and how we might support them. . . . Our centers haven’t done as badly as other national centers. This may be about diversity and also low property entries. The highest vacancy level on Soho Road, even at the peak of recession, was 4 to 5 percent.
In our conversation with Khar, he clearly acknowledged the role of high streets like Rookery Road, but very much in terms of a local or neighborhood-scale designation, “Local centers are the heart of local communities. If they don’t beat, the area doesn’t.” He went on to say that he had been involved in working on local centers for over a decade and mentioned public investments, such as a CCTV scheme, new lighting and parking schemes, and business support. Khar notes that many of the local centers are “quite buoyant and experience less vacancy than the center.” He refers to new efforts to refresh the approach to these centers, thinking about the role of micro-businesses and how the council might support them, and refers to “the enabling role of the public sector,” but clarifies that “as our resources diminish, we’re not able to provide as much support as we’d like.”
At a subsequent meeting at Birmingham City Council a few weeks later, we met with Khar and Zidan, a senior official in the Birmingham City Council Planning Directorate. Both reiterated a commitment to local centers and high streets, but they emphasized a clear economic strategy with a global orientation as key to Birmingham’s future. Zidan outlines the approach: “We’re chasing investment which is global in its nature, including the financial sector, information and computer technologies, health, advanced manufacturing, and life sciences. We talk to China and the Middle East to sell Birmingham. It’s a diversity of economies that matter, that’s our insurance policy.” This is apparent in the city’s portfolio of large-scale investment plans ranging from the “Big City Plan,” to the £1.2 billion enterprise zone, to the previously cultivated Chinatown. In the booster imperative of one kind of global imaginary, coupled with attachments to a certain global diversity, is a commitment to highly corporatized and increasingly financialized models of economic growth. The model cannot be sustained without significant state buy-in, requiring both long-term planning commitment and resources alongside significant public subsidies that ensure that core infrastructures are in place and at the ready. It is an imaginary of centers and not margins to which this global lexicon lays claim, and with it the assumptions that some diversities have greater value than others. In the context of Birmingham’s regeneration ambitions, Nick Henry, Cheryl McEwan, and Jane Pollard reflect on a “politics of scale” reimagining the global as shaped by the long flows of migration to Birmingham and underscoring the invisibility of minority ethnic contributions.41 This call to the “ordinary city” is an intervention propelled by Jennifer Robinson that is invested in everyday constitutions of socioeconomic life but also expands the limits of the global in order to incorporate a wider geographic reference of value and knowledge in planning systems.42
As seams of convenience and spaces of livelihoods, high streets are undoubtedly important socioeconomic resources within their local neighborhoods. But what is their aggregated significance for thinking about the city as whole, beyond a local/global dichotomy? How do we comprehend the cumulative urban effect of high streets in the edge territories of cities? While the designation of the local is useful for planners in that it permits a contained scale for planning and regulation, it omits the larger-scale consideration of why these streets matter beyond their apparently local scale. If we simplistically were to multiply the jobs estimated on Rookery Road, with the over seventy-odd other designated town centers across Birmingham that the planners had identified, we would be somewhere in the range of twenty-eight thousand jobs. This needs to stand alongside the newly heralded plans for “one of Birmingham’s largest regeneration projects,” the Peddimore Industrial Estate led by the developer IM Properties, which projects a possible provision of sixty-five hundred jobs in logistics and manufacturing.43 By comparison, the kinds of work available on streets, particularly in peripheries, remains largely invisible to policy and planning sectors. Street work and street jobs are often hard to trace, since data capture depends on formal taxation sources for registered staff, including “Pay as You Earn” or VAT registration thresholds for businesses that generate over £85,000 income per annum.44
While the aggregated number of high street jobs across Birmingham is something of a conceit, what is of crucial significance is the indicative quantum of energy, cultural exchange, and social participation that is located in the edge economies of marginalized parts of cities. The High Streets for All report, which explores the socioeconomic value of London’s high streets, confirms that “47% of businesses outside Central London are on a high street and 1.45 million employees work on or within 200 metres of a high street, and this number is growing.”45 An important question that follows is, what kinds of jobs are these? Proprietors on Rookery Road indicated that 40 percent of jobs in their shops went to family members. Family labor may include unpaid labor, often with pronounced gender effects. Jobs in shops may also escape the regulatory requirements of minimum wage. The lineage of Trevor Jones and Monder Ram’s work on minority ethnic enterprise has historically evidenced that the many minority ethnic businesses in places like Birmingham continue to be precarious yet also create important work and business activity.46 However, they remain largely unrecognized by the state: “Though it might be imagined that policymakers would be keenly interested in harnessing this kind of energy to the national good, the reality is that, even before 2010, new migrants were marginalised in relation to the UK enterprise support system.”47 Significantly, the vast majority of shops on Rookery Road were independent and not tied to a chain or franchise, with proprietors referring to preferences for autonomy outside of a discriminatory labor market. As our research progressed, we also became aware that some of these jobs include first-time work opportunities for students as well part-time work organized around circumstances like child care, old age, or ill health.
It is also necessary to ask where work will come from in the edge territories of disaccumulation, where state investment continues to retreat and jobs are increasingly hard to come by. The emerging labor surplus is now compelled to find work in new forms of casualization—en masse, digitalized, and detached—accountable to its corporate investors and venture capitalists rather than its workers. Street work is also often casualized, but it has a locus and a scale that may permit different forms of accountability and/or exploitation. I would argue that the minority status of these edge economies, as secured by their designation as “local” as well as their categorization as “ethnic,” belies their major consequence. The centrality of the margins remains invisible and unvalued by planning systems. Edge economies, as Pusan explained, are attuned to a permanent state of recession, where a myriad of small investors, hustlers, and caregivers sustain its vitality. In contrast, planning systems are frequently lodged within a world schema of centrality. Corporate global capital delivers a “world-class” city status through cultural precincts, theme parks, and IT hubs. Planning systems recognize these structures as coherent and legitimate and facilitate their advance under the overarching assumption of economic growth. Their assumed trickle-down effects never reach the margins, yet the margins remain crucial for maintaining, servicing, and serving the center. More importantly, the edge territories remain a crucial resource, and its lively infrastructures of relative affordability and adaptation are never more vital than in a context of growing casualization and disaccumulation.
Interspersed among the row houses that make up the domestic fabric of Rookery Road are a range of spaces that provide various forms of association and care. They are a core to what makes edge economies work and are constituted by the forces of marginalization, which in turn generate practices of coping with and resisting inequality and discrimination. Some of these spaces of care require formally constituted membership, while others are moderated by social agreements that negotiate the balance between needs and provision. Importantly, these practices of collaboration are liminal more than ideological. They often arise out of conditions of exclusion, and while the instruments of religion, ethnicity, and locality are deployed, they are sustained beyond these prescriptions of belonging through what Loren Landau and Iriann Freemantle articulate as a “tactical cosmopolitanism.”48 Some emerge in a direct response to crisis, where adaptations are rapidly made within existing capacities and institutions to attend to the burgeoning needs pushed by state cutbacks. What we might call “responsive collaboration” takes the form of food banks, feeding schemes, and drop-in counseling services, for example. Another avenue is barter collaboration, which works through forms of trust and negotiation, where an existing bureaucratic format, procedure, or legislation is facilitated through an exchange of skills. In the edge economies we observed, these practices of trading favors emerge in order to deal with the heightening of form-filling procedures in relation to reduced welfare and the proliferation of borders as advanced by the Immigration Acts of 2014 and 2016.
Multilingual collaboration is a third and crucial avenue of street association. It reflects the legacy of Édouard Glissant and is suggestive of a lively mode of solidarity, a subversive composite shaped between those immersed in marginalization. Glissant was able to capture a rooted but never settled “errantry” constituted by living across boundaries within a shared margin, developing a hybrid vocabulary in order to resist subordination.49 Perhaps the street coffee culture of Stapleton Road explored in the previous chapter is such an errantry, as is Alimah’s shop. In following the transactions of traders in street markets in Naples, Antonia Dawes argues that “the multilingual nature” of collaboration across migrant and established groupings is neither “postracial” nor “multicultural” in its essence but is constituted by a precarity shared by unemployed Neapolitans and migrants who both engage in street vending: “In the age of globalised migration, the multilingual nature of such collective action is central to understanding social struggles that must be organised between marginalised groups of people divided by race, religion, politics and legal status.”50 Dawes identifies agile but unstable practices of “multilingual linguistic exchange” among traders as ways of organizing their resistance to the city’s closure of street markets. Street market evictions and licensing crackdowns are associated with city hall’s attempt to plan for tourism and regulate out spaces that do not comply with a world city aesthetic. Their protests as much as their designated status are marked by a highly racialized context of planning and space management in which people management is always elemental.
Responsive collaboration, barter collaboration, and multilingual collaboration open up the varied avenues of association and solidarity connected to edge economies. The intricacies of resistance shared across groups in response to planned regeneration and displacement will be expanded on in the chapter that follows. I focus here on the relatively mundane rather than transformative acts of resistance that are shaped in the everyday operations of street economies. Individuals, groups, and institutions incrementally combine resources to actively contest austerity governance and its punitive effects in edge territories. When Rana describes himself as “a political animal” he explains, “I was thirteen when I went on my first demonstration. I’ve always been involved in how people take up issues. For the last ten years in deprived areas like Birmingham we’ve been working with the realities that make up the city.” He went on to comment specifically on the visible growth of poverty, and how the gurdwara he belongs to has had to adapt to meet new demands: “A few years back our gurdwara used to provide about eighty meals a day to our community. Now we serve two thousand meals a week to every Tom, Dick, and Harry.” The large gurdwara temple off Soho Road was specifically constructed by and for his caste in 1971, and its congregation has grown to twenty thousand people. As the tangible impacts of austerity became apparent, the gurdwara extended its feeding scheme, attending to the gaps forged by a receding state.
Such forms and modes of responsive collaboration are similarly evident at the northern end of Rookery Road, where a charity renting space from the Methodist church similarly attends to the volunteer work of community care. Within the church grounds, a women’s charity has been running for twenty-seven years. With two full-time and two part-time staff, the center reportedly caters to more than five thousand women a month, offering services ranging from daycare to free meals. Avantika describes the particular relations of trust required in this gender work: “The center caters to women from all age groups and is super-diverse in all aspects. . . . With the closure of council neighborhood offices people come to the center to read letters and fill in basic forms. Residents will travel from other cities to come here and talk to trusted staff.” Despite the continuous withdrawal of the state from local acts of public provision, the sociospatial infrastructures of care are residually kept in place by ethics and programs highly sensitive to the needs of a diverse community. Their endurance is sustained by formal and informal systems of membership, religious obligations, and a culture of voluntary contributions. The slow physical and cultural construction of such community-oriented initiatives are also initiated, grown, and sustained in a comparatively flat urban land market without the excesses of planning scrutiny or the threat of market foreclosures. They are an integral part of the fabric of the twilight zone, attuned to the energies and fragilities associated with life in the edge territories. These are not necessarily transformative processes, but they are practices that engage with an attentiveness to human care.
While multilingual proficiencies are part of the migrant circumstance and repertoire, there are some modes of communication that defeat the proficiencies of the multilingual citizenship of the street. Bureaucratic-speak is one such mode of language that often remains impenetrable. The “filling in of countless forms” was repeatedly raised in our fieldwork conversations as an intimidating bureaucratic procedure that overwhelms many migrants who feel poorly equipped to communicate in opaque and extensive official procedures. Every aspect of a “new” life needs to be confirmed, vetted, and processed. Migrants are immersed in a seemingly endless pile of forms attached to bank accounts, mobile-phone contracts, tenancy agreements, National Health Insurance applications, visa applications, citizenship tests, and registrations for health care and school places. A new life can be overwhelmed with a labyrinthine density of procedures that requires not only particular skills but dogged determination. Javier Auyero articulates the lives subjected to a density of extensive state procedures as akin to “the time of denizens.” In the context of urban poverty in Argentina, Auyero scrutinizes the way that states use the tangible life of paperwork—inescapable in its black-and-white authority—to discipline its subjects, requiring them to wait, to be on hold, to remain uncertain.51 Much like in Auyero’s account, a supplementary economy emerges in multiple venues along the street in which form-filling is undertaken with varied degrees of street assistance.
In our research we were aware of three kinds of form-filling economies. The most rudimentary was a trade in favors brokered on goodwill or “barter collaboration,” sometimes involving small sums of cash. The independent bookstore on Narborough Road is filled with an abundance of secondhand books and goodwill. The proprietors, Jane and Mike, have had both the shop and a home above it for over twenty years. One of the many community-oriented initiatives they have been involved with was the creation of “West End Traders,” a platform composed of residents and proprietors along Narborough Road for voicing interests and concerns and engaging with the council on issues ranging from parking to opposition to large-scale redevelopment projects. Jane has established links over a period of time with some of the traders on the street and has become something of a “language broker,” assisting migrants and refugees, most particularly in the early years of settlement. “There are a lot of people who don’t know how to get their welfare and are actually being really badly treated,” she says, “but what has mainly been happening around here recently is getting people citizenship.” In return for assisting in form-filling, Mike and his son have their hair cut for free by Ansar, whose shop is just a few doors down from the bookstore. Ansar regularly pops in to tell Mike it’s time for a trim. This reciprocal labor permits a mutually acceptable arrangement of need and recognition that sustains the social exchange.
Among these more rudimentary features of the street is a growing presence of “one-stop immigration shops”—places to charge and process access to varied forms of citizenship ranging from security-guard accreditations to preparations for the “Life in the UK” test. Yusuf, who formerly worked for the Birmingham City Council, reflects on these new street spaces, drawing connections to the receding role of the local state in the provision of resources for migrant needs:
The city council has had a hand in courting votes and supporting projects. Since 2010, the funding is no longer there. “ESOL” [English as a second language] courses and Learn Direct programs, which were free, have been outsourced to training and certifying agencies. These charge people to train for “European Computer Driving License” courses or to become security guards.
There are a number of such spaces along Rookery Road, appearing as conventional shops, with signage that alludes to these new shopfront activities on the street. Next to the Lara Supermarket, which lists its customer base on its shop sign as “Polish. Kurdish. Romanian. African. Turkish. European. Arabic. English,” is a sign for the “ESOL Citizenship Test Centre.” The services listed include “Preparation for Life in the UK Test. Preparation for Driving Licence Test. A1/A2 test for Spouse or Extension of Visa.” The interior is rudimentary, with a copier, a notice board, and a varied selection of chairs and tables, with a makeshift office area to the rear. Manal, who lives locally and works in the shop, explains, “We are always very busy. People need help. Here we can try and help with a few things.”
Street economies and services attending to the strictures of migration law and citizenship requirements are similarly prominent on Cheetham Hill, located to the northwest of Manchester’s city center. On the street we recorded 10 percent of ground-floor use attributed to some form of dealings in immigration, most notably lawyers’ offices, which were accompanied by additional offices above street level. Here signs indicate immigration specialties, as typified by one sign: “Immigration Specialist Practice: Asylum and Appeal Chamber. Points Based System. Human Rights Appeal. International and Extradition Laws. Employment Law and Work Permits. Judicial Review.” While the trade in fresh and cooked food is still the backbone economy of the street, accounting for one-third of the shops on Cheetham Hill, the immigration specialism is significant. This presence can be contextualized by the heightening of border restrictions and a splintering of legalities, and hence a rapid, street-based response to this reality to serve people living in the neighborhood who are affected by state and everyday bordering. The presence of lawyers specializing in immigration is also influenced by the significant state cutbacks of legal and public services, where services offered by local law centers and legal advice networks supported by councils have been adversely affected.
The Layering of the Margins
Manchester is shaped by long histories of migration that have intersected with patterns of urban marginalization. The history of street trade in Cheetham Hill reveals two key features, connected to low entry-level urban land markets outside of the city center and discriminatory limitations in access to trade. Predating John Rex and Robert Moore’s conceptualization of the urban “twilight zone,” the Old Jewish Quarter in Cheetham Hill, which emerged at the turn of the twentieth century, was characterized by its peripheral urban locality, low-entry rentals and property prices, and a prohibition on Jewish people from trading in the city center. The Old Jewish Quarter was “a poor district of ‘shelved streets’ stretching down from Cheetham Hill Road to the railway and the River Irk. Badly built and heavily polluted, immigrants could find cheap accommodation for which there was no competition, near to the synagogue and other communal facilities established by earlier settlers.”52 The first Jewish traveling settlement in Manchester in the 1740s was oriented around a peddler and hawking economy at a time when the Jewish population in Britain was denied political rights and the legal ability to purchase property or to participate in certain trades in certain localities. Their itinerant mercantile practices ultimately transitioned into small shops initially rented and eventually purchased in marginalized parts of the city like Cheetham Hill.
Saqib and Ben, who were in the process of starting up the Manchester Asian Bazaar on Cheetham Hill, reflect on the historic layers and challenges of street trade:
SAQIB: Cheetham Hill is divided into two sections, with the warehouses towards town. The southern end is the poor end, where there are many more takeaways than restaurants. It has suffered from neglect. When I moved from Leicester in 1978 there was a strong Jewish presence in the shops up until the nineties, even now. They were running delicatessens, kosher butchers and advisory services. The footfall has changed, but it has not uplifted.
BEN: Cheetham Hill has some very established communities: the Irish, the Ukrainians, Greek Cypriots, Jewish. I would say that 70 percent of properties on the main road are owned by Asians, and 30 percent Jewish, including the majority of solicitor, accountant, and property management offices. The street economies are divided. There are some self-start businesses that are not moving forward, not without education.
SAQIB: I disagree. I know an individual who came in the sixties. He knew nothing. He now has a staff of more than fifty people, doing trimmings and haberdashery. The interesting bit is, he succeeded with a work ethic.
BEN: Twenty, thirty years ago opportunities were massive. Now the majority of products come from outside UK. How do people access this world? The step from here to here [he gestures with one outstretched hand then the next], without education, is massive.
Saqib and Ben identify the layered geographies of the street as well as the changing nature of global economies that influence the nature of street trade. Ben refers to how crucial education is to participating in such expanded networks. Based on our survey responses, we estimated that 78 percent of proprietors on Cheetham Hill had some form of higher education, with more than two-thirds of proprietors conversant in three or more languages. Twenty-one percent of street activity was organized around professional services of the kind Saqib had mentioned, including the growing service area in immigration law.
Saqib and Ben went on to discuss their plans for a new bazaar toward the northern end of Cheetham Hill. They talk about the different needs of small trade and the growing requirements for smaller space and more flexible leases. They also refer to how they learn from other places about how to create more aggregated and less individualized experience of exchange:
SAQIB: This whole area is quite cosmopolitan. It’s a mixed bag. That is the first consideration that appealed to our idea. The word bazaar comes from Persia, but it is a word many of our people have an affinity with. We looked at three bazaars in Bradford and in Oldham, we looked to learn from them. We want to create many smaller shops under one roof, and we can help with a short lease. The smallest unit is eight foot by eight foot.
BEN: If the bazaar models in Bradford and Oldham can survive, we can make it work here. We’ve had our own businesses running over the last eight years. We’re three to four eccentric people who’ve got together—eccentric in the sense that we are all dreamers—and we put our experience together. We try and plug every hole we can conceivably imagine. You have to be belligerent in your commitment.
Within the discriminatory political, economic, and urban landscape of Cheetham Hill, access to work and space has been historically restricted. In this edge territory of Manchester, inventive repertoires have emerged, often in a piece-by-piece or makeshift manner, as resources are slowly and tenuously acquired, requiring, as Ben suggests, a certain belligerence in commitment. Precarity remains a core feature of street trade. One of the ways in which the street hosts adaptations is through a range of very small to large business spaces with related tenancy variations within the street’s row houses. The smallest entry points with the lowest risk remain key. On Cheetham Hill, itinerant traders sit behind rudimentary desk-height boxes and sell pay-as-you-go mobile-phone cards that allow customers to purchase low-cost calls to a wide number of cities across the planet. These traders are located on the pavement in front of the larger shops and benefit from passing trade as well as drawing customers into the larger shop interiors. Such pavement traders are either self-employed or work on a commission basis with the main store. Either way, the low risk, small-space setup yields a meager living, indicating a spectrum of entrepreneurs on the street, some of whom are positioned in an intensely precarious world of work (Figure 13).
By comparison, the average shop size on Cheetham Hill is around sixty square meters, and at the time of our research in 2015, rentals in these units ranged from £1,000 to £1,300 per month. A few large independent superstores are interspersed along Cheetham Hill where the spaces of former bingo halls and a cinema have been adapted for new retail uses. The superstores are notable for their size and range of goods, from the prized yellow mangoes picked and packaged in Pakistan and stacked in piles along the pavement, to enamelware from a long-established British producer that is now manufactured in China. These superstores fill some one thousand square meters of space and employ approximately thirty people per store. From our survey the shops along Cheetham Hill had an employment ratio of 4.3 people per unit, translating into an estimated 705 jobs in the street’s ground-floor interiors. The range of street spaces reflects the insecure practices of low-paid and erratic work alongside substantial retail outlets, evidencing the “rags-to-rags” and “rags-to-riches” scenarios within the same spatial stretch.53 The edge economies of the street therefore incorporate a complex spectrum of class positions within an ostensibly working-class terrain. Alongside the peripheralization of people and place and the restrictive practices of trade and employment, crucial reconfigurations to the urban environment are made by historic flows of migrants. Skill sets are developed in order to maintain degrees of mobility beyond a singular place, and street collaborations emerge to preserve a modicum of dignity in place.
Work in the Margins
Streets in the edge territories are founded on capitalism, its durable assertions of “race,” and its compulsion for displacement. I have argued the street also provides what Achille Mbembe calls “an encounter with capitalism,” a place from which to analyze its violence and see varied social and economic reconfigurations. Here, Mbembe clarifies how “the two poles of re-creation and dessication [sic] are inseparable.”54 Edge economies remain invisible to the lens of planning and its penchant for growth and regeneration precisely because they operate outside of the value of centrality. At best, planners see the street in the edge territories as a local resource, a necessary but diminutive part of the whole. However, edge economies are not a marginal infrastructure of the urban; they have a scale and a consequence for thinking about work in the margins. They also prompt questions of whether and how these economic and spatial practices differ from other modes of corporatized self-employment. Through these edge economies we are able to see the endurance of race-making and the capacities and limitations of space for reimagining the economic, and with it the political.
Edge economies are formed in a matrix of displacement that takes in its sweep global, national, and urban asymmetries. Space is crucial in rendering the details of the entrepreneurs of edge economies. Here it is elemental to locate the specificity of how work makes place, from the underresourced and overcrowded “twilight zones” of the industrial margins to the “landscapes of disaccumulation” in which state cutbacks and shifts to ever more precarious forms of labor converge. Pusan dryly refers to the racialization of these margins as “being stuck out on a bit of the A4 motorway with our ‘black arts’ and our ‘black economies.’” The street life of edge economies reveals the agile participations of street proprietors in the nexus of marginalization. Making work and sustaining street collaborations is part of shaping a purpose as well as a highly precarious means to hanging on at the edge. Historical migrations, landings in urban peripheries, and immersions in a fragmented labor market intersect to shape the marginal condition. In deindustrial landscapes, the shift from the working class as politically unionized and culturally collectivized to a precarious grouping of workers is marked. Within this altered space of work we are compelled to make sense of the loose collaborations of the street.
Streets accrue these layers of the complexity of a world of work; they are occupied by proprietors over time, with each person arriving on the street via a particular sequence of borders and journeys. Each adds to the strip, layering it with surfaces and sensibilities brought from elsewhere, building up the different ways of making work in the edge territories. The capricious practices of surviving, hustling, caring, and profit making are suggestive of much more plural ascriptions of either “the” economy or “the” entrepreneur. The racialized nature of durable recession needs to be understood precisely in Gilmore’s terms, raising the question of who is most likely to be an entrepreneur of the edge. Self-employment on the street, for all its experimental dimensions, is a structural predisposition secured by the hierarchical and racial nature of the labor market. Thus the forms of hustle speak to the harnessing of limited resources, an agility honed because of exclusions from wider and more established circuits of exchange. In the practices of borrowing and lending outside of banking systems vetted by scales of association from aunties to local committees, the street reveals how these economic repertoires are social and immersed in spatial and material improvisation. Exteriors and interiors emerge out of a makeshift city-making, where resources are incrementally accumulated and adjustments are readily made. The street aesthetic and ethic are always unfinished; a responsive way of making that structurally and sensually differs from centrality’s inclination for completeness. In this chapter the ever-present ubiquity of the bureaucratic form is one of the ways in which the margins are called into order through a pervasive mode of slow subjugation. Under the umbrella of “form-filling economies,” associational arrangements seek diversion from the shared predicament of having one’s human status and citizenship status systematically questioned. Far from the ambit of assimilation, these practices are about reconfiguration, ranging from acts of nurture and repair as extensions to “life-cultivating practices,” to the mercantile exchange of services.55
Although street economies are frequently orchestrated as highly individualized increments of buying and selling, they are also extended through more associational endeavors. We observed responsive, barter, and multilingual modes of collaboration, suggesting varied alignments within and across the economies and cultures of the street. Responsive collaboration works through more institutional architectures in spaces such as libraries and religious centers, where practices have been altered to attend to the needs of those living with stresses exacerbated by the Great Recession and the longer continuity of marginalization. Barter collaboration is often more intimate in its order, and depends on dimensions of regularity and trust. It highlights how, despite multilingual proficiencies, the citizen of the edge is curtailed in the capacity of bureaucratic-speak, requiring a trusted fixer to smooth over the translations. Translating in this context is too benign a description for the questioning and subjection of citizenship to form-filling, where an impenetrable mass of state procedures disciplines its unwanted subjects via the perpetual black-and-white authority of paperwork. Everyday bordering has compounded this subjection, and on the street a variety of interior street spaces have emerged for circumnavigating the borders. The street’s labyrinths of reconfiguration secure its opacity, retaining its virtues of invisibility. Yet in the context of a punitive state, hypervigilant in its proliferation of everyday bordering and inadequate in its provision of care, this invisibility also secures the possibilities for clandestine exploitations and racisms, and its circuits of desperation. Multilingual collaboration is an agile mode of reading and reshaping street life. It lives in the makeshift configurations of care and recognition that emerge through the lively claims to space, incorporating the edge as a resource of creativity and affiliation.