Free Trade?

Informal Economies at the U.S.-Mexico Border

Kathleen Staudt
Book Cover

PB: $32.95
EAN: 978-1-56639-568-7
Publication: Jan 98

HC: $79.50
EAN: 978-1-56639-567-0
Publication: Jan 98

Ebook: $31.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-0547-0
Publication: Jan 98

256 pages
5.5 x 8.25
6 tables, 16 figs., 14 halftones, 5 maps

How petty regulations feed grand global hegemonies that cheapen labor


In the aspiring global cities of Ciudad Juárez and El Paso, people generate income and develop their housing informally on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. Staudt analyzes women and men in low-and middle-income neighborhoods in the core and in the old and new peripheries of two cities that straddle an international border.

Residents counter national and international influences to build shelter and incomes, albeit meager. But the political machinery of both the U.S. and Mexico constrains the ability of these quintessential free traders to build political communities and organize around self-sufficient work and housing in visible ways.

Experiences at the border, along a central gateway for capital, job, and labor movements, offer insights to readers as the globalized economy spreads and engulfs the heartlands of both the U.S. and Mexico. People's everyday victories in countering petty regulations can counter or feed the grand global hegemonies.


"This book makes a solid contribution to a variety of literatures.... In political science literature, which has not paid much attention to informality, Kathy Staudt takes an important step forward toward adequate theorization of informal activities. Scholars in economics and sociology, where most of the theorizing of informality has occurred, will benefit from an analysis which looks beyond the social and economic aspects of informality on which they typically concentrate. Her analysis contributes to the border studies literature, particularly because it assesses informality and politics in the comparative context of both El Paso and Juárez. Yet its findings have important implications not just for the Mexican interior, where informality is prevalent and well-documented, but for the rest of the United States, where many of the documented processes are no doubt occurring as a global restructuring runs it course. For this reason, the book is a model for parallel studies in other non-border contexts."Susan Tiano, University of New Mexico

"...applies a Gramscian political framework to understand the informal economy as a set of counterhegemonic practices the poor develop." Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Preface and Acknowledgments
1. Introduction: Culture, Politics, and Informal Economies at the U.S.-Mexico Border
2. Gazing at Space: Borders, Institutions, Informality, and Political Community
3. Contextualizing a Border City: Juárez-El Paso
4. Finding and Making Work Within and Across Borders: The Informal Underbelly at the Border
5. Moving Within and Across Borders for Land and Shelter
6. Getting Public Services: Reflections on Political Community in the Urban Peripheries
7. Engaging Political Community: Surveillance, Public Accountability, and Seeds across the Border
8. Moving from the Border to the Mainstream: Concluding Implications

About the Author(s)

Kathleen Staudt is Professor of Political Science at the University of Texas, El Paso. She is the author or editor of Political Science and Feminisms: Integration or Transformation? (with William Weaver), Managing Development, and Women, International Development, and Politics: The Bureaucratic Mire (Temple).