For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"“I choose to be here”: Tensions between autonomy and precarity in craft market vendors’ work"

by Kovesi, Caroline; Kern, Leslie (2018)


Outdoor markets have emerged as key nodes in cities’ attempts to revitalize downtown areas through culture and consumption. However, few studies have investigated urban markets as sites of labor, or explored work conditions from the perspective of vendors themselves. As self-employed creative workers in a seasonal industry, artisan vendors experience various forms of economic insecurity related to precarity inherent to their line of work. This article investigates the experiences of artisan craft vendors in Ottawa’s popular ByWard Market. Through interviews with vendors, we explore themes such as artisan identity, relationships in the market, and economic and labor conditions. We argue that although precarity seems to be inherent in the vendors’ work conditions, it does not undermine their identities as artisans, in part because of the strong value attached to autonomous, creative work. This attachment may, however, hinder artisan vendors’ abilities to organize for structural changes that would mitigate their economic precarity.

Key Passage

Although we do not seek to romanticize precarity, our research illustrates that artistic workers may have different experiences of precarity than other kinds of workers affected by the shift to casualized employment, such as retail service workers or contract academics. However, we note that for craft vendors, a strong sense of identity as proud, independent artisans and an attachment to the autonomy inherent in their work, as well as conditions of this work itself, may actually hinder their abilities and desires to work collectively or to advocate for changes that might ameliorate more negative aspects of their precarious work conditions, despite the sense of community they share. (p.171)


Crafts, Creative Work, Seasonal Work, Gig Economy, Autonomy


Precarious Work, Goods of Work

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