Street economies: studying cities

The street is the heart of the city; the basic unit that constitutes the public space, where the city is actually made. The street is the first space for human interaction, where individuals encounter each other. The street is also a space of economic agency, where people work, survive and create diferent kinds of capital. On the street, consumers and sellers exchange different kinds of goods and meet their needs defining notions of value and surplus.

The street and the public space are at the basis of our definition of a city. For over a fifteen years, Aguiar has been carrying out fieldwork on how street economies and public space are organised and controlled. Legal frameworks, state policies and cultural products resulting from the influence of globalisation or the neoliberal ideology, have had a profund influence on the economic activities and cultural practices taking place in the public space. Aguiar researches the different kinds of actors and networks, as much as the goods and products, that become there available.

Copying and the limits of property have gained relevance with the expansion of markets for ‘pirated’, counterfeit and knock-off products. Under the impact from globalisation, marketplaces and street commerce in metropolises around the world have increasingly become ‘cultural markets’ where music, films, software, design and fashion are widely available and generate different kinds of value and profit. Here, definitions of knowledge, style, and taste massively circulate giving form to the cultural identity of consumers.

Copyrights piracy

By applying anthropological methods for data collection and analysis, Aguiar has contributed to the ethnography of street vending, marketplaces, globalisation and transnational networks in Latin America. Aguiar is specialised in the production and circulation of copied CDs, DVDs, ‘fake’ and ‘pirated’ products. Even if these goods are defined as illegal, they still are widely popular. As a matter of fact, the content that becomes available throguh ‘piracy’ informs the definitions of style, taste, and the cultural repertoires of larger sectors of consumers. Piracy becomes the access to the content and expectations of globalisation and modernity.

Aguiar has published on intellectual property rights and the informal sector, including the state polices to counter copypights piracy in marketplaces and border cities. The case studies include the San Juan de Dios market in Guadalajara (Mexico), downtown Quito (Ecuador), smuggling and the regulation of traders in Ciudad del Este (Paraguay) and Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil).

Transnational networks: China-Latin America

Based on the fieldwork on marketplaces and street vending, Aguiar has looked at the rise of transnational trade networks in the context of informality. The study looks at the collaboration between Chinese and Mexican entrepreneurs in Guangzhou and Mexico City, and associations of traders in Guayaquil (Ecuador).

Research has been financed by Research Network, Global Consortium on Security Transformation, and the Dutch Organization for Scientific Research NWO.