2001 volume 33(1) pages 121 – 140

Cite as:
Williams C, Windebank J, 2001, "Reconceptualising paid informal exchange: some lessons from English cities" Environment and Planning A 33(1) 121 – 140

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Reconceptualising paid informal exchange: some lessons from English cities

Colin Williams, Jan Windebank

Received 30 August 2000; in revised form 14 October 2000

Abstract. Most studies of paid informal exchange evaluate its varying magnitude across space and social groups. Little attention, however, has been paid to the variable nature of paid informal exchange. Instead, the unchallenged assumption is that such exchanges are universally conducted under work relations akin to formal employment for profit-motivated purposes. To evaluate critically this dominant conceptualisation of the character of paid informal exchange, empirical research is here reported from lower-income and higher-income neighbourhoods of two English cities. This identifies that although most paid informal exchange in affluent suburbs is conducted under market-like relations for economic gain, this is not the case in lower-income neighbourhoods. Here, such exchange is more undertaken for and by friends, neighbours, and relatives for an array of reasons associated with developing social capital and/or redistribution. We conclude by suggesting that a more socially, culturally, and geographically embedded appreciation of the nature of paid informal exchange is now required alongside a fuller exploration of its implications for policy.

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