Reluctant entrepreneurs: Doing business in the marketplace, Challapata, Oruro, Bolivia
The question explored in this dissertation is: How do the political practices and outlook of vendors and the activities associated with their occupation connect with the economic and political agenda of neo-liberalism? In answering this question, I analyze data regarding fresh produce vendors and a marketplace in the town of Challapata, Oruro, Bolivia. I note that vendors' concern for individual gain, their involvement in competition, their need to employ entrepreneurial skills, and their desire that the state remain distant from the affairs of their businesses all parallel ideological tenets associated with neo-liberalism. This parallel, I argue, is the outcome of the work entailed in selling and of the qualitative aspects of the social relations in which vendors engage. I develop my argument by, first, taking account of the socio-economic context of the region in which Challapata is located. Second, I explore the work of selling—the resources required, the social relations entailed, the decisions vendors make, and the strategies they pursue. I emphasize the role of the household in vendors' businesses and the individual nature of many of their social relations. Third, I examine the broader processes that regulate selling. Finally, I discuss previous collective political actions in which vendors have participated and offer an explanation for their current political complacency. I argue that, encountering few opportunities to gain a livelihood, vendors enter the occupation of selling. They do so reluctantly because of its inherent risks and physically demanding work. The work of selling, because it requires that one be competitive and entrepreneurial, also entails an element of individualism. This individualism is reinforced by the types of social relations upon which vendors rely. Since few rules govern the activities of Challapata vendors, they have no tangible source of collective discontent. The result is that their common interests as vendors take a backseat to their individual concerns. Nonetheless, local, regional, and national political-economic processes do influence vendors' activities and these constrain their ability to accumulate funds. Hence, subordinated within capitalism, vendors enter the marketplace as sellers. This work, however, only reproduces their subordination.
0505: Business costs