Re-articulating labour in global production networks: The case of street traders in Barcelona

The global production network approach constitutes a relational theorising of production processes, incorporating firm and non-firm actors, including the state, civil society and labour. Despite renewed attention to labour, global production network analysis focuses predominantly on formal waged work, giving insufficient attention to growing numbers of precarious workers, including self-employed and own-account workers, who are often the most vulnerable and exploited. This is symptomatic of a persistent, unhelpful dichotomy between formal and informal production practices. Consequently, the ability of precarious workers to navigate and challenge the terms of their engagement with global production networks remains little understood. This paper addresses this by examining the everyday practices of migrant street peddlers – ‘manteros’ – and their interaction with clothing and footwear global production networks as they source, produce, brand and retail products on the streets of Barcelona. We develop recent insights from labour agency and dis/articulation perspectives to conceptualise simultaneous processes of inclusion and exclusion taking place at the margins of global production networks. We reveal multiple, agentive strategies adopted by precarious, informal workers and demonstrate how, through their engagements with global production networks, they are able to re-articulate their social, economic and political marginalization. Such insights, we suggest, advance critical understandings of labour in global production network analysis and economic geography.

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Volume 37 Issue 6

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