Bazaar pathologies: informality, independent businesses, and Covid-19 in the South Caucasus

  • As 2021 draws to a close, Covid-19 continues to prevail worldwide. With the proverbial return to normalcy still appearing distant, there is now a tacit acceptance globally that at least for the foreseeable future, we must live with Covid-19. Given that Covid-19 is an infectious disease—which by definition is transmitted from person to person—the continued prevalence of Covid-19 has implications for how local authorities, communities, and individuals around the world will approach public spaces. While it may be premature to assume a so-called coronacene (see Higgins et al. 2020), going into the future our use of public spaces will be overshadowed by the possibility, even if remote, of illness or death by virtue of close proximity to other individuals. Along with parks and squares, streets and avenues, bazaars constitute ubiquitous public spaces, including in countries of the developing world, such as Armenia and Georgia, our countries of discussion here. Although there is not a clear bifurcation between bazaars and other types of marketplaces, bazaars will usually be comprised of a multitude of nonfranchised, self-owned, small businesses that are variously family-run or rely on family labor. They are usually perceived as chaotic places that lack hygiene (the purportedly unhygienic character of the bazaar was brought to the forefront with the pandemic, given how Covid-19’s origin is widely assumed to be a Wuhan wet market). In Armenia and Georgia, and indeed, across the former Soviet Union, bazaars are a source of employment for the urban and peri-urban population; they also offer goods at price points attractive to a wide demographic. This working paper builds on the premise that the bazaar is an informal institution. Bazaar traders will typically assemble networks by themselves (with manufacturers and wholesalers, buyers and transporters). These networks will usually vary from one business to another. Also, ownership and rent structures are frequently opaque, and the majority of commercial transactions are in cash, which does not appear in state records. As a consequence, for the state, many small businesses do not exist (Fehlings and Karrar 2016, 2020). For those of us researching bazaar trading, Covid-19 has given rise to a basic question: How have independent businesses been transformed by the pandemic? This working paper is an attempt to parse this question in light of developments in Armenia and Georgia. In this working paper, we suggest that the Covid-19 pandemic has deepened informality in the bazaar. That being said, we want to underscore that the present discussion is exploratory. Our ethnography remains limited, and we look forward to returning to the field as soon as it is safe to do so.

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Author:Hamlet Melkumyan, Susanne FehlingsORCiDGND, Hasan H. KarrarGND, Philippe Rudaz
Parent Title (English):Working Paper Series on Informal Markets and Trade ; No. 12
Series (Serial Number):Working Paper Series on Informal Markets and Trade (12)
Place of publication:Frankfurt am Main
Document Type:Working Paper
Date of Publication (online):2021/12/28
Date of first Publication:2021/12/28
Publishing Institution:Universitätsbibliothek Johann Christian Senckenberg
Release Date:2021/12/28
Page Number:11
Last Page:9
Institutes:Sprach- und Kulturwissenschaften
Dewey Decimal Classification:3 Sozialwissenschaften / 38 Handel, Kommunikation, Verkehr / 380 Handel, Kommunikation, Verkehr
Licence (German):License LogoDeutsches Urheberrecht