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The non-formal business of cyber cafes: a case-study from India

Rangaswamy and N


Small businesses enabled by information and communication technologies (ICTs) are deeply embedded in a context of non-formal business relations and practices in developing economies. We take the specific instance of 30 internet cafés in the city of Mumbai as subject of our study to explore the non-formal business culture operating in and through an unregulated grey market. Using ethnographic methods, we profile café management of everyday business strategies and contextualize them in the broader and pervasive culture of non-formal business relationship in the Mumbai economy. Regulatory discourse of information technologies in general and the internet in particular is foreclosed by the language of piracy and ill-legality. Our main contribution in this paper is re-thinking issues related to piracy and ill-legal practices when they are embedded in non-formal economic relations. These define and support a way of life for millions participating in a developing economy. We attempt to open debates by positing non-formality as alternate premise to understand, the so-called, piracy and ill-legal practices among small ICT enabled businesses. By dismissing the ICT grey market as piracy we ignore the nature of market relations critical to governing the non-formal IT sector bringing IT inclusion to the majority in India.


Publication typeArticle
Published inJournal of information, communication and ethics in society, 7, (2/3), pp 136-145
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