Informality, global production networks and the dynamics of ‘adverse incorporation’



The neglect of questions of informality in the study of global production networks (GPNs) is curious given the scale and reach of informality in the contemporary global economy. In this article I advocate a tighter integration of informality into the questions and approaches we deploy in the study of GPNs, not simply as an empirical area of enquiry but also in theorizing, first, how GPNs work and, second, with what social consequences. Drawing on ‘structuralist’ insights into the relationship between informality and formality in capitalist economies, I argue for a recognition of the ways in which these are structurally blended with one another to the extent that their dichotomization is empirically and theoretically misconceived. I go on to explore the ways in which informality is created and exploited within GPNs in a ‘top–down’ manner – that is, by capital, firms, employers and states – and the ‘bottom–up’ dynamics of informality, which frequently are constitutive of ‘adverse incorporation’ in GPNs for large numbers of workers, generating and perpetuating forms of poverty, marginalization and vulnerability.