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Ana Maria Vargas Falla

Ana Maria Vargas Falla

Director of first and second cycle studies

Ana Maria Vargas Falla

Formalizing Street Vendors: Regulating to improve well-being or to gain control?


  • Ana Maria Vargas Falla


  • Colin Fenwick
  • Valérie Van Goethem

Summary, in English

Formalization, understood as gaining legal status to develop their businesses, is the mainstream policy to regulate the work of street vendors in most cities in the world. However, formalization policies are criticized by different scholars, and many vendors go back to the streets after formalization despite government efforts. To contribute to this long-standing debate, this chapter explores the relation between the formalization of street vendors and the improvement of their well-being. Formalization is addressed from the point of view of the vendors. The empirical data are based on an ethnographic study of a formalization programme for street vendors in the city of Bogotá, Colombia. A total of 169 vendors were interviewed. This study concludes that formalization often covers a very small number of street vendors, while the majority work informally and do not have access to formalization programmes. However, the few vendors who were formalized were better off after the formalization of their businesses. They gained confidence, self-respect and autonomy. They were empowered by the law that recognized their work and gave them legal status, contrary to previous laws that disempowered them and prohibited their livelihoods. Therefore, formalization can be a tool to enhance well-being when governments use the law to improve the life of the poor, and not as a tool of control.


  • Department of Sociology of Law

Publishing year







Regulating for Equitable and Job-Rich Growth

Document type

Book chapter


Edward Elgar Publishing


  • Law and Society


  • formalization
  • decent work
  • well-being
  • street vendors
  • regulating
  • empowerment
  • informal
  • economy




  • ISBN: 978-92-2-129646-1
  • ISBN: 978 1 78811 267 3