School is on the run [Thèse]

“Honesty Doesn’t Eat”

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At least 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted each year, or a third of the food produced in the world. Europe alone is wasting the equivalent of the food needed to end world hunger. At the same time, there has been a process of impoverishment of societies over the past few years, dragging billions of people into poverty.

Wanting to make ends meet by reselling goods of dubious origin at times with maximum profit, it is no longer uncommon to see street vendors here and there. Unsurprisingly, spectators roam these markets, recognized as illegal, by cigarettes, souvenirs, food, and consumer goods. Selling on the sly is selling goods on the public road without a special license and without fixed fixtures, so that you can quickly escape in the event of a preview.

This is where food retailers put up unbeatable prices on previously collected and unsold supermarket junk. Street selling requires very specific knowledge depending on the merchandise to be resold for customers to see without customers, but also to manage competition and dishonest buyers.

How do you get the goods? What is the market relationship based on? What are the subtleties to master? What is the place of deception and deception? How do we escape from this economy? This is what it offers you to discover while running Gauthier Bail in his thesisTrade, Deceit, and Deceit: An Ethnography of Street Selling in Paris “.

Opportunity knocks: why are you reading this thesis

As a novice peddler, Gautier Bale bets on a so-called “open” pattern of investigation in which everyone is aware of his intentions. Thanks to regular and transparent contacts, he manages to blend in with the crowd and no longer worries his subjects to collect data without interfering with observed situations. This allows the author to reveal a range of economic, social, or even anthropological aspects that have remained hidden due to the illegitimacy of the subject being studied.

Work is a way to earn a living or supplement an income with dignity. However, in France, business requires paperwork, and selling in public requires a license that includes various taxes and compliance with laws or standards. Selling crafty, undercoat or even wild, is prohibited in France. From the Eiffel Tower to Boulevard Barbes, passing through metro exits and trash cans at local stores, the author analyzes the dystopian reality of street vendors in one of the world’s most idyllic cities.

Far from simplifying sensational media, the author explains all the nuances of his topic. A world in which countless personalities mingle against the backdrop of a model of loyalty that weaves invisible bonds between all the actors who form an extraordinary community where cunning and deceit are transformed into benign and legitimate morals. In addition to the harshness of reported reality, the author presents, in the manner of the clichés that permeate his thesis, new perspectives that emerge from his statements, hope, humanity and the desire to exist.

Excerpts: Investigative Interviews and Relationships: Jane

Avenue de la Porte de Montmartre borders the motorway ring road in the far north of Paris and hosts a local food market every Thursday morning. Somewhere on the right sidewalk, near a bus shelter, the corridor of the residence does not allow the installation of traditional kiosks. In this area of ​​u200bu200babout twenty square meters, you can do all kinds of work under the cloak. A little counterfeiting: belts, perfumes, watches, toys… Some basic products: toothpaste, shampoo, razors, chocolates, diapers. But mostly food.

After a combination of circumstances, I met Jane 3 there on February 26, 2015. Underneath her fluffy appearance with muscular forearms, she was the only one who survived the police bout that day. With her carriage and a large nylon bag, she pretended to be waiting for the bus. She told me that she was sixty-seven years old, of French descent and a former employee of a record publishing house. Then I sat down beside her and explained to me that in twelve years, if she had learned anything useful, not many goods would be distributed so that she could quickly collect them when the time came.

After that, I went back regularly for several months. Sometimes she would invite me for coffee at 2:00 pm when the market was over. If she had to run away during the sale, she sometimes asked me to watch her wares for a few moments. On other occasions, she insisted on staying away from products she was unable to sell, not only to me, but to other retailers as well. That’s how I understood that there is some kind of rule about it. Merchandise donations are actually not uncommon among sellers. They can also buy and sell it. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for them to reveal their place of origin. However, I was lucky to have discovered one of these recovery points myself. From there, I decided (for a while) to make Jen take advantage of her by bringing her Thursday morning what she had found the day before.

Between 2015 and 2017, according to a changing tempo, I was involved in reclaiming goods that were put in the trash (but still expendable) and then reselling them on the margins of neighborhood markets in northern Paris. I frequented food resale outlets by direct observation for the first few months, and then by observing participants. I was, like every one of them, the number one benefactor of the food I found, which allowed me (in my lean period) to cut my food budget in half, an average of twice a week. At the height of my activity. On the other hand, my participation was mostly limited to an hour or two of sales and profits of between three and eight euros. Investigation in this way assumes that I can stretch myself independently and regularly. If I’ve been able to do this often, it’s because the store in my basement collected a handful of people twice a week who were waiting to be able to pick up their unsold items. I got acquainted with this group of collectors there as well as some dealers and field notes I collected along with almost a large number. »

High School of Commerce sly?

Cross-checking the data collected by Gauthier Bayle makes it possible to reveal a social network in which each individual seeks to avoid an escalation of disloyalty. We find that all actors in this microcosm, including the police, temper their egos to allow compromise if not mutual accountability. Seeking some form of social peace by allowing everyone to coexist, exchanging services, advice, reciprocity, or even informal rules. However, this easing of tensions remains weakened by all the failures or feelings of betrayal that tear him apart.

After not leaving high school for commerce, street vendors are taught their street school livelihood through a social apprenticeship that copies the successes of the most daring. Even in selling, the scams of this trade are absorbed by the sum total of personal experiences and direct or indirect companionship of their peers, clients and the police. This is how informal skills and knowledge are built, based primarily on mistrust and deception, as illustrated by the author’s often-heard formula: “Even your best customer is a thief.”

From vices to debates?

In chiaroscuro, the author reveals the world of street vending and its coherence with the societal context of the city. Behind the false appearance of joy in some of the collected exchanges, there are strong social tensions and malaise. Rarely is a group of flawed individuals, living in an environment built on games of trust and betrayal on a street which, unlike them, would not give them credit.

Gauthier Bayle gives a vision of society and their human relationships are usually overshadowed by our routines. We glimpse how the different social behaviors of the group in which the cities are littered are woven, transmitted and acquired.

Driven by problems of employment, equity, or starvation from urban poverty, these extraordinary entrepreneurs are creating alternatives to the traditional economy. In a way that some of these street vendors despite themselves learn to play a social role by providing various consumables at unbeatable prices to the most vulnerable population while making food waste profitable.

And then what? Ready to train on the fly?

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This work was defended on November 17, 2021 with the aim of obtaining a PhD in Sociology from the University of Paris Nanterre at the Doctoral School of Economics, Organizations and Society (ED: 396) within the Laboratory of Institutions and Historical Dynamics of Economy and Society (UMR 8533) (Nanterre – France)


Gautier Bale. Trade, Deceit, and Deceit: An Ethnography of Street Selling in Paris. Sociology. University of Nanterre – Paris X, 2021. French. ⟨NNT: 2021PA100114⟩. ⟨tel-03649494⟩



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