Taxation and collective action in an informal, gendered context

A comparative case study of collective organising among urban women informal traders in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

This paper sets out to explore the why and how of collective organising among women traders who work in the urban informal economy of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Specifically, the aim is to investigate the effects of (formal and informal) taxation and assistance of external organisations on women market traders’ organising processes.

The vantage point of my inquiry is the literature on models of tax bargaining and fiscal contracts between the state and the citizens (see e.g. Prichard 2010; 2015; Moore 2007; 2008). In short, the core argument in this literature is that taxation of citizens can foster responsiveness and accountability on the government’s part. Thus, the outcome is a governance dividend from taxation (Moore 2004). In his book Taxation, responsiveness, and accountability in sub-Saharan Africa: the dynamics of tax bargaining (2015), Wilson Prichard puts forth a theoretical model of tax bargaining. In this, he argues that this tax-accountability link can happen through two mechanisms: tax resistance by or public engagement and collective action of the citizens. As indicated, it is the latter mechanism that I set out to explore in this paper. In short, the theoretical argument of the tax bargaining model is that when citizens are taxed, they engage in collective action “seeking to make reciprocal demands on the government” (ibid: 254). However, as Prichard notes himself, there is a need for theorising about the microprocesses through which this mechanism manifests on an individual and group level. This is what I attempt to do in this study.

While acknowledging that taxation can be a motivational factor for collective action, it is also evident that the willingness and the capacity of citizens to engage in collective organising vary across population segments (see e.g. Carroll 2011; Titeca & Kimanuka 2012; Meagher 2016). Thus, several scholars have pointed to the importance of direct assistance by external collective actors with the capacity, knowledge, vision, network and resources to render help to organising processes of ‘low capacity’ (Lund & Skinner 1999; Polletta & Jasper 2001; Prichard 2015). Such outside assistance seems particularly relevant in this case seeing that women informal workers, especially the poorer groups, tend to experience the starkest constraints towards organising (Lindell 2010; Meagher 2016). That said, drawing on social movement literature, I argue that it is not unimportant what kind of external organisations that assist the women in organising (see e.g. Lindekilde & Olesen 2015; Snow & Soule 2010; Edwards & McCarthy 2004). On the contrary, the character of organisational environment can be expected to matter for both the collective identity, governance, scale and, subsequently, the outcome of the women’s organising. Thus, by integrating insights from tax bargaining and social movement theory, the study seeks to gain a better understanding of the tax-collective action dynamics in an informal, gendered and ‘organisational’ context.

I investigate this integrated theoretical framework of collective organising in a comparative case study of collective organising among women informal traders across three municipalities in Dar es Salaam.

The study is a Master's thesis. The thesis is available here.