MARKET WOMEN AND PERUVIAN UNDERDEVELOPMENT1
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While anthropologists studying marketing and marketers have generally
focused on peasant societies in rural areas of the third world, researchers
from a number of disciplines are beginning to turn their attention to the
situation of urban marketers and street vendors in the cities of underdevel-
oped countries.2 This recent research has opened a whole new set of ques-
tions for further investigation: How may we conceptualize the role of
urban marketers within the framework of underdeveloped economies? What
models are adequate to account for the rapid growth in this occupational
sector? Why are certain portions of poor third world populations, notably
women, so widely represented among urban marketers? I will suggest, by
reference to the situation in a city in highland Peru, that these questions
are fundamental if we are to consider the place of marketers in urbanizing,
but underdeveloped, areas.
The research on which this paper is based was carried out in 1977 in
the city of Huaraz, which is located in the north-central Andean region
of Peru known as the Callejon de Huaylas. This site was chosen for an
examination of the work of market women, who have a long tradition in
Peruvian marketplaces, but whose participation in the national economy
has gone largely unnoticed. The market women of Huaraz, who make up
about 80% of all marketers there, are concentrated in the marketing of
agricultural products and other goods which typically bring in a very
small income. While men often sell manufactured goods, women most often
sell fruits and vegetables and prepared food, and somewhat less often
they sell dry goods, meat, fish, live animals, small household items, and
When I set off to do my fieldwork, I took along a number of assump-
tions acquired through my reading on rural markets. Consequently, I
anticipated that since Huaraz was a city of some 75,000 bilingual Spanish
and Quechua-speaking people, and thoroughly integrated in the market economy,
traditional marketplace activity would be declining. This expectation was
heightened by my knowledgesvhaf.the Peruviah government since 1968 has made
industrialization in the rMrxi sector a primary economic concern. Thus I
felt certain that wage labor would be absorbing marketers or their husbands,
contributing to the decline of marketing.5 Moreover, I anticipated that
this process of "modernization" would result in an even more rapid decline
in the marketplace participation of women relative to men, as the latter
took over the expanding market of modern manufactured goods.6
Seeking evidence of these expected tendencies in Huaraz made it im-
possible for me to grasp the significance of marketing as an urban phenome-
non. Only slowly did it become apparent that the city marketplace was not
a survival of peasant culture, but rather a thriving feature of the dis-
torted development process of a poor nation. The signs were everywhere.
For example, it became clear that the number of sellers in the city was
proliferating. A major earthquake destroyed much of the city and its
population in 1970, but since that time there has been a steady influx of
rural people, many of whom have joined the townspeople selling in the
marketplace. By 1977, there were as many as 1500 sellers in the three
indoor markets and spread out in the streets of downtown Huaraz on busy
days. People complained that "All of Huaraz is one big marketplace now,"
and many recalled days when the marketers were fewer in number and all
knew one another.
The work and family histories which I collected from about 300 Huaraz
marketers provided more evidence of marketing as an aspect of modern urban
life and not a simple continuation of past tradition. Although some women
learned to market from their mothers, many others learned on their own when
their land or other sources of livelihood proved inadequate to support their
families. All the marketers made it clear that selling was an economic
necessity, and for many it was the principal source of family income. A
number of sellers related their present hardship to the economic crisis
their country was experiencing, and some expressed the hope that their
daughters' futures would offer better opportunities. Other women, however,
were resigned to the possibility that their daughters, even with an education,
might have no alternative but to work in the market.
The lack of employment opportunities for both men and women in Huaraz,
and throughout Peru, was mentioned frequently by informants. When queried
about the national government's plans for modernization and industrial
growth, many people laughed bitterly and said, "In Lima, sure, but not
here in the sierra." Their assessment of the government's indifferent
attitude toward development and employment opportunities in the provinces
appears correct in light of recent policy-making, which has perpetuated
the historical coast-sierra inequalities. Women's opportunities in
Huaraz were especially limited, for while men found occasional work as day
laborers and employees, women were primarily restricted to domestic service
and petty commerce.
We find then, that with urbanization in Huaraz the number of marketers
is increasing; that for many women marketing is a recent economic necessity
and not a family tradition; and that the inadequacy of urban employment
opportunities, especially for women, makes a change in this pattern unlikely
until there is significant socioeconomic change at the national level.
Once it is recognized that the course of development of marketing in
third world cities may be very different from what we would expect using
a traditional model based on peasant marketing, we must ask what is the
direction of this development. Are these market women of Huaraz, for ex-
ample, petty entrepreneurs accumulating capital for investment in larger
endeavors? My research revealed that this would describe only a minority
of marketers, and that most market women barely "get by." When asked how
much they make as sellers, many respond, "How much do I make? Better to
ask how much I lose!" Indeed, most marketers appear to be simply repro-
ducing their present conditions, and the unfortunate ones are, perhaps,
If the urban marketers I am describing are neither breaking away from
a peasant tradition nor adopting a modern way of life in the mode of capi-
talist entrepreneurs, we need a different model to explain their situation.
I will mention three approaches that have been taken by researchers study-
ing urban marketers. The first two, I think, have certain deficiencies,
while the third offers insights which will be explored in the rest of the
The first approach, based on the concept of informal and formal sec-
tors in third world cities refines the earlier notion of traditional and
modern sectors. It has been adopted by a number of researchers in the
1970s who emphasize the divergence of the two economic sectors. In con-
trast to the capital-intensive, wage-earning formal sector, the informal
sector is characterized by self-employment, easy entry, reliance on in-
digenous resources, and labor-intensive technology. Although advocates
of the informal-formal sector model have contributed importantly to our
understanding of little-known economic activities and social groups, their
dualist thinking tends to obscure the interlinkages between the sectors
which are necessary to maintain dependency.
A second approach employed by students of urban marketing makes no
qualitative differentiation between the economic sphere in which marketers
participate and the larger capitalist economy. Rather, a continuum is
suggested by the often-used terms "small-scale" and "large-scale." Mar-
keters are viewed as operating in small-scale enterprises, but as having
at least the potential for increasing the scale of their activities. The
assumption behind this model is that the same economic principles and
psychological motivation condition the work of petty marketers and large
entrepreneurs. While this may sometimes be true, a number of recent
studies suggest that these are exceptional cases.1 If we are to under-
stand the place of petty marketers in underdeveloped economies, this con-
ceptual framework based on quantitative criteria does not appear to help
us account for the unique features of the urban poor who are engaged in
A third approach to this problem, and the one which I favor, has
been proposed during the last few years by several researchers, but as
yet few anthropologists have considered its advantages. These researchers
use the concept of petty commodity production to locate the place of petty
producers and traders at the margins of capitalist economies, but thoroughly
integrated into them. Fundamental to this view, petty commodity production
represents a subordinate mode or form of production coexisting with the
dominant capitalist mode. It is characterized by an incomplete separation
of producers from the means of production, i.e. by the individual owner-
ship of the means of production by independent producers. Furthermore,
these independent producers are primarily devoted to household provision-
ing rather than profit-making.11
This approach has been found useful to the analysis of petty produc-
tion and trade, which, rather than diminishing, are often thriving in third
world cities.12 Researchers using this model suggest that petty production
and trade are sometimes preserved as a means of increasing capital accumu-
lation in the dominant capitalist sector of poor countries.
The petty commodity model is informed by dependency, or marginaliza-
tion, theory, which explains the expansion of petty production and commerce
in terms of the broader political-economic situation. According to depen-
dency theorists, capitalist development in the third world countries takes
a distorted form, more accurately called underdevelopment. Because of
their historical subordination in the world political economy, third world
nations have been kept in a dependent position, and consequently they have
not followed the pattern of growth of the dominant nations. For example,
instead of absorbing an ever larger number of workers in the industrial
labor force, the capital intensive sector in dependent countries is gener-
ally able to accommodate only a limited portion of the population. As a
result, in countries like Peru most of the urban poor, many of them migrants
from the countryside, have little alternative but to enter marginal occu-
pations in the tertiary, or service, sector.4 For women, work in this
sector is found primarily in such areas as domestic service, marketing,
and street vending.
The petty commodity model avoids the main pitfalls of the first two
conceptual models by recognizing the distinct features of the petty pro-
duction and commerce sector, and by furthermore demonstrating that this
sector is conditioned by and conditions the larger society. I will suggest,
by reference to the case of Huaraz, that this third approach can provide
some clarity in the following areas: it places the work of marketers in
the total production process; it provides a framework in which the pro-
ductive component of marketing itself is revealed; it offers an explana-
tion for why petty traders rarely accumulate capital and expand their
activities; it points to the ways in which the capitalist economy as a
whole benefits from the work of small traders.
There are theoretical and empirical reasons why it is important to
view marketing within the context of the whole production process. Gen-
erally, analyses of marketing have not gone beyond the sphere of distri-
bution to examine this total process. Theoretically, it is necessary to
understand as a unified process the production of goods for exchange, their
passage from producer to marketer, and the realization of the value of the
goods as they pass from marketer to consumer. This way, the marketer's
livelihood is seen to depend fundamentally on the production of goods, and
exchange in the marketplace is properly understood as one step in the
In Huaraz there were practical reasons for adopting such an analysis.
For many of the marketers, their work extends beyond selling in the mar-
ketplace, to occasional or regular production for exchange carried out at
home.15 Most marketers' families hold some land, either up above the city
or farther away in the rural communities where some of them were born. The
majority of their landholdings are very small and only provide enough food
for household use, but some market women take part of their crop to the
market. Others depend upon the occasional sale of their rabbits and guinea
pigs, and the wool of their sheep, as ready sources of cash. Still others
have small flower gardens from which to sell flowers during the holidays.
Much of the marketers' work which is often referred to as "processing"
of goods for sale is also carried out at home. For example, women dealing
in hams and poultry have as much work to do at home preparing their meats
as they have selling them in the market. Sellers of ham buy their animals
live, take them to be slaughtered, return home with the meat, and begin
the four to seven-day curing process. Chicken sellers, too, buy the ani-
mals live and care for them until the day of sale, when they themselves
slaughter and butcher the chickens early in the morning before going to
market; then, whatever chicken remains unsold at the end of the day must
be preserved until the following day. Many other products are purchased
in the market from producers or wholesalers and taken home for further
preparation before sale: sellers of grains spend hours cleaning their
product; sellers of prepared food such as tamales or mazamorra (corn-
starch pudding) work hard to prepare their goods for sale; artisans, or
producer-sellers, work into the night hours to have sweaters or skirts or
pots ready for the next day in the market.
With these examples we have already moved from marketing as one point
in the production process, to the specifically productive component of
marketers' work. I believe that even less attention has been given to
this aspect of market work, and that again the petty production model is
useful. Most market studies have emphasized the productive side of the
marketer's work only when the seller of a product has also produced it
from start to finish. When work is added to a product that was purchased
by the marketer, it is often trivialized by the term "processing."
I would maintain that this "processing" is just as productive an acti-
vity as the start-to-finish work of producer-sellers, since the work added
in this way also contributes value to the final product. This work goes
on both at home and in the marketplace as women sell. One of the most
striking aspects of marketing that I found in Huaraz was the degree to
which women's time in the marketplace was occupied by working on the pro-
ducts for sale. In fact, customers often seemed to be something of an
interruption to the real work at hand. While my reading on rural markets
had alerted me to the social aspects of marketing, some economic functions
of the marketers came as a surprise to me.
To give two examples, I will draw from areas of marketing in which
women are most prominent in Huaraz. These are the sale of cooked food at
small marketplace restaurants or simply set up in the street around a
portable stove, and the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables. The sellers
of cooked food are among the busiest in the market, as might be expected.
They must purchase the day's supplies, prepare meals, serve customers, and
clean up all day long. Some require the help of assistants to manage all
this work. Somewhat more surprising is the amount of work performed by
the fruit and vegetable sellers. After buying goods for resale, they begin
a series of tasks to prepare the products for customers. At the very least
this involves cleaning and arranging their produce, but generally it goes
beyond this. For example, many women cut up a variety of vegetables and
make small packets for customers to use in soup. Others regularly peel
and slice vegetables for sale to other marketers who have prepared food
I believe that there is another reason, besides the usual neglect of
the productive side of marketing, why this kind of work has gone unnoticed
in most studies. Put simply, it is women who are performing this work, and
the work they do in the market is very often the same kind of work that
women do within the household. Since women's household labor has not re-
ceived scholarly attention until recently, it is not surprising that
women's marketplace work has also remained invisible. Consequently, we
have more information about the social activities of women marketers than
we have about their economic activities.
Before turning from the question of the productive contribution of
marketers, it should be pointed out that transporting goods to the place
of sale and looking after them, preserving, and storing them are all vital
services provided by marketers. They are essential to complete the pro-
ducer-to-consumer cycle, and should be considered productive work.16
Two areas which have been addressed by the petty commodity production
proponents remain to be discussed: why petty marketers rarely accumulate
capital, and how the capitalist economy as a whole benefits from their
work. To consider the case of Huaraz, these questions must be placed in
the context of recent developments in Peru.
In 1968, a military coup established in power a government which
initiated a program of economic reform, and many were convinced that Peru
was emerging from underdevelopment. Nevertheless, by the early 1970s it
was clear that the nation's plans for industrialization were contingent
upon the cooperation of international lending agencies and private banks,
a situation which has kept Peru in a state of dependency. By 1975, a
series of economic crises led to a conservative turn toward further de-
pendence on the advanced capitalist nations, as represented by the inter-
national lending agencies which have been making severe political and
economic demands on Peru.1
Economists have examined the impact of economic reform in Peru since
1968. One study compared the incomes in the "modern" and "traditional"
sectors in Peru, which are distinguished by high and low productivity,
before and after the reforms. It was found that while the reforms have
been mildly progressive for the country as a whole, they have been di-
rected to the modern sector, and so the traditional sector has grown rela-
tively more impoverished.8 The government, representing middle class
interests, appears to have deliberately decided to ignore the traditional
sector while reviving the capital-intensive modern sector.9 Such groups
as the marketers in Huaraz, in the "urban traditional" sector, are rela-
tively worse off as a result of this policy-making.
The domestic food supply has been a politically sensitive area of
economic policy under the military government. Fearing urban food short-
ages and middle class dissatisfaction, the government began subsidizing
food imports (half the metropolitan food supply) rather than transferring
surplus from the state or the urban consumer to the agricultural sector
for improvements in production and marketing.2
In 1970, the Empresa Publica de Servicios Agropecuarios (EPSA) was
established to control external trade and internal markets of basic food-
stuffs, and to extend support services to farmers. EPSA managed to hold
down prices to a politically tolerable level by means of imported, subsi-
dized supplies, but Peru's farm output continued to stagnate.2
The production and marketing of agricultural products were brought
under state control in 1972. By the end of 1974, the rising domestic
food deficit and the costs of subsidizing imports, along with temporary
shortages and administration problems,led to the formation of a Ministry
of Food. The economic situation worsened in 1976, when international
banks demanded austerity measures in Peru as a condition for granting
loans. These measures have included reductions in public spending, the
elimination of subsidies on gasoline and food items, and the devaluation
of the sol.
The office of the Ministry of Food in Huaraz issues weekly lists of
prices for basic food items to marketers. Wholesale and retail prices
are controlled for fruit, vegetables, dry goods, milk, and meat. While
some wholesalers occasionally attempt to charge more than the official
price, retailers rarely take the risk of receiving a large fine. Price-
setting is out of the hands of most sellers, then, and the allowable
margin of profit has been kept low.
Price controls are one reason why the income of Huaraz marketers is
low. Other reasons would surely include the national curtailing of con-
sumption and the proliferation of marketers--both consequences of Peru's
economic crisis. The general attitude of marketers toward their work is
that it provides a small, but necessary, income for the support of their
families. Few keep account of their business, and the goal for most is
simply to make enough money to take some food home. Very few express any
expectation that their small income will grow. More often, they describe
the decline in business over the past several years.
The marketers feel they provide an important service, but they do not
often consider their selling as valuable work, and when asked to compare
their work to wage labor in the area most agree that wage labor is more
desirable. Day laborers, they point out, receive about 80 soles (or about
a dollar in 1977), while they earn an average of 40 or 50 soles daily, or
less. Wage labor, however, is scarce enough for men, and almost nonexis-
tent for women of their social class.
In addition to their poor earnings, there is another reason why market
women are rarely able to accumulate capital. As for most Peruvians their
family expenses are soaring as a result of inflation, but they are at a
further disadvantage. While the prices of food they sell in the market-
place are controlled in order to appease the urban middle class, the prices
of manufactured goods which the marketers require are given free rein. Mar-
keters point out that this widens the gap between the social classes in
Clearly, in Huaraz most market women are not "getting ahead," and
to understand why it was necessary to locate their position in the national
economy. I turn now to one more area in which this model, which suggests
that petty commerce is marginalized yet integrated in significant ways: in
the dominant society, demonstrates analytical power. This is the question
of how the work of petty marketers may be benefiting the capitalist economy.
One way that marketers serve the national d~terest in Peru has been
mentioned. Although it may seem absurd at a time when food prices are
soaring to say that marketers help keep prices down, this is possible
since so many people are available to work for so little reward. Keeping
prices down to a tolerable level is crucial to the government and it has
several consequences. First, as already discussed, it primarily benefits
urban consumers who might otherwise mobilize against the government. Second,
it allows wages in the modern sector of the economy to be kept low, since
the cost of reproducing the labor foree is kept down.
The presence of a large number of people engaged in petty commerce
has other beneficial effects for the national economy. Since many market-
ers see wage work as desirable, they are in a position to respond to the
changing needs of the capitalist economy for workers. It is to the advan-
tage of the economy to have on hand a ready labor force which can, when
not needed, maintain itself. This capacity for self-employment is a most
important one since it not only helps maintain a reserve labor force, but
it lessens the poverty and unemployment which is already near the explosive
In Huaraz there are several other aspects of marketing which ought to
be mentioned in terms of their benefits to the economy. Few marketers in
Huaraz support themselves or their families entirely by their sales. These
market women, as pointed out, often have some land, and other family mem-
bers usually have some source of income. This means that their land base
and their market income can be at a below-subsistence level, and market
families will still manage to "get by." Resourcefulness and diversifica-
tion at the household level allows earnings in any one sector to remain
low--to the overall advantage of the national economy.
Moreover, marketers in Huaraz, as in other cities, pay numerous fees, and
this provides a key source of revenue for the local government. The de-
pendence of the city administration on these fees is obvious from its
response to the marketers' threats of withholding them on at least one
Since petty marketers are serving the economy both at the local and
national levels in so many ways, it comes as a surprise to discover that
the government appears to be on a campaign to eliminate them. However,
almost every Lima newspaper that I read during the course of my fieldwork
included articles describing the government's efforts to bring food to the
urban consumer directly from the producer, or at least directly from the
wholesaler, without the small retailer's participation ("de la chacra a
la olla"). There was one such effort, much publicized, in Huaraz.
For all the reasons stated above, this would seem to run counter to
the interests of the national economy, and my conclusion is that rather
than really try to eliminate petty marketers the government has used them
as scapegoats to divert attention from the real causes of the economic
crisis. Hence, the government assures urban consumers that it is doing
all that is possible to stem the crisis, without taking action that might
really improve the economic situation. Meanwhile, the showcase support
given to producer and wholesaler markets has resulted in failure, and most
of those who have participated in these markets, including consumers, agree
that they cannot get along without the vital work of the petty marketers.
To conclude, market women in Huaraz, like petty marketers elsewhere,
have an important role within the terms of an underdeveloped capitalist
economy. Their number in the urban marketplace is likely to continue
growing until significant social change alters the structure of underdevel-
opment in Peru. It is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss the active
way these marketers fight their economic dependency, but here it may be
noted that they should not be viewed as silent victims of their life condi-
tions. Because they are members of a marginalized social sector, and be-
cause as women they are even more manginalized than men in that sector, it
should perhaps be stated more strongly that the resourcefulness of market
women is very mften matched by an angry unwillingness to accept the further
impoverishment of their families. As Peru's economic troubles deepen, we
will see what role market women come to play in the struggle against
1 The views presented in this paper are developed further in my forth-
coming dissertation, Women and Marketing in Huaraz, Peru, State University
of New York at Buffalo. Funding for fieldwork in Peru was provided under
a grant-in-aid awarded to William W. Stein by the State University of New
York Research Foundation.
2 For example, contributions to World Development, special issue on the
urban informal sector, Vol. 6, No. 9/10 (1978) and Bromley and Gerry (1979).
Also, although their research does not center on urban markets, a very use-
ful analysis of marketing and underdevelopment may be found in Cook and
3 See, however, Weldon and Morse (1970) and Oliver-Smith (1974) for
discussion of the market participation of women in Yungay, located not far
from Huaraz, before and after the 1970 earthquake destroyed the city.
4 A number of market studies have shared the view expressed by Bohannan
and Dalton (1962), that as the market principle intrudes, marketplace acti-
vity declines. Some writers have challenged this view (e.g. Buechler 1978)
and its underlying assumptions (Duprg and Rey 1973).
5 This was my conclusion in Babb (1976).
6 It has been pointed out by a number of writers, notably Mintz (1971),
that capitalist development has meant a changing sexual division of labor
in marketing, whereby men gain prominence as traders in goods for export,
while women's traditional trade is devalued. In Huaraz, such a division
of labor is apparent, but in this paper I want to emphasize that while
market women's status may be declining, their number is increasing.
7 Many authors have discussed the coastal domination of the sierra in
economic and political terms. See Cotler (1970) for an analysis of this
form of internal colonialism in Peru.
8 See Hart (1973) for a pioneer article. More recently, others have
adopted, modified, and criticized the view (e.g. Arizpe 1977; Bromley
1978a, 1978b) Davies 1979; Long and Richardson 1978; Nelson 1979;
9 This approach to market studies is characteristic of formalists in
economic anthropology (e.g. Tax 1953; Katzin 1959; Dewey 1962). How=
ever, other writers who insist that the question is one of scale, also
argue that the chances of small enterprises becoming large ones is very
slight (e.g. Roberts 1975).
10 See for example Gerry (1978), Bromley (1978), and Forman and Riegel-
11 See Marx (1967:761-762) for the formulation of the petty mode of pro-
duction as a transitional stage. See Cook (1976) for a discussion of the
usefulness of the concept for the analysis of peasant producer-sellers.
12 For example Gerry (1978) and MacEwen Scott (1979). It is used criti-
cally by others like Long and Richardson (1978). In somewhat different
contexts, the petty commodity production model has been used by Cook and
Diskin (1976) and Kahn (1975).
13 This view of dependency and underdevelopment was set forth iy Baran
(1957), Erank (1969), and others.
14 See Quijano (1974) and Amin (1976).
15 And of course besides producing and selling goods, all are consumers
of goods in the market, so they are involved in all phased of the production
16 See Mandel (1970:191-192).
17 For several recent analyses of Peru since 1968 see Cotler (1975),
Petras and Havens (1979), and Pasara (1979).
18 Webb (1975)
19 Thorp and Bertram (1978:305)
20 Fitzgerald (1976:72-73)
21 Fitzgerald (ibid.:51)
22 Strasma (1976:310)
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