Labour studies in the current scenario are understandably in difficult times. Our traditional subjects of research are disappearing: strikes and other forms of industrial disputes, collective bargaining, trade unions, left parties and so on. Displaced from the spaces – factories and fields – in which labour scholars have historically imagined them, the so called working class is physically scattered and in what could be described as political wilderness. Informal work or the informal sector has become the most commonly used term for describing workers who work, but who do not have regular or assured work, income, or work-related social security. The domain of informal work is vast and diverse. Perhaps one of the most challenging tasks in labour studies has been to provide a definition which captures both the essence and the wide ranging complexity of informality, as well as a coherent imagination of a possible politics of informal workers qua workers. Neo classical economists have defined informality as absence of state regulations, and in recognition of the sector's diverseness have conceded that there is a range (more or less) in terms of absence of regulations, and also, importantly, that formal and informal, therefore, must be seen in a continuum, rather than as mutually exclusive. This unifying definitional framework, is a useful first cut, but does not provide any clues to understand the complexity, or the historical specificity of informal work in the present times.
On the other side of the intellectual divide, left leaning critiques of capitalism, in general, and dependency inspired theories, in particular, explain informal work, particularly in developing countries, but also increasingly in the west, as generated by the contradictions of capitalism in a technologically driven world of global capital. Other left-leaning theorists have seen petty self employment as the domain of exclusion – the need economy – which provides subsistence to workers excluded by the global-capital driven economy. Informality, as a domain of exclusion, is, on this view, structured by global capitalism. Such theories are intrinsically attractive for a broad understanding of the political economy of development; the push cart seller or the pavement vendor in third world cities may well be a product of the dynamics of global capital. It is nevertheless difficult to imagine the precise points of interface/ conflict between the huge domain of self employed workers (who may also double up as casual wage earners) and global capital.