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Keywords:

  • Bangkok;
  • informal economy;
  • street vendors;
  • urban governance;
  • Thailand

After the 1997 financial crisis, many retrenched workers preferred not to return to provincial homes but remained in Bangkok to establish informal retail businesses in branded and other consumer products. In contrast to traditional street vendors, who specialized in food items primarily catering for low-income customers, and focused on high volume, these ‘new generation’ street vendors also adopted more formal business practices. Given their greater sophistication and better education, we hypothesized that they would be more organized advocates of vendors' rights and thus more prone to conflicts with municipal authorities. Based on interviews, however, we found that new generation vendors are adaptive to location and business strategy, and prefer a low profile in dealing with officialdom. By contrast, traditional vendors remained more tied to particular spaces, are more likely to stand up for their rights to use public space and, because they expect more from government, are more prone to conflicts with municipal authorities. Our findings relate to ongoing discussion on the rights and needs of street vendors to access urban public space and the responsibilities of authorities to meet and provide for these informal sector livelihoods that make up a significant share of the national economy in Thailand, as elsewhere in the global South.