Survival Tactics of Waste Paper Pickers in Istanbul

Ismail Hakki Yigit


This study examines migration, ethnicity, stratification, and the informal economy by focusing on Waste Paper Pickers (WPPs) as an informal occupational group in Istanbul. I conducted a yearlong fieldwork project among WPPs in Istanbul, collecting ethnographic, observational, participant observational and interview data to develop a description of the everyday lives of WPPs and how they organize their daily work routines. This paper identified most WPPs as immigrants enmeshed in family, friend and compatriot relationships and examined differences and similarities among WPPs.

Three main factors account for immigrants entering this occupation: (1) kinship / relative / friend and compatriot relations, (the WPPs’ social capital); (2) the easy entry to this occupation; and, (3) the ‘mafia’ or hiring WPPs on daily basis. Rather than only one type of WPP, they can better be understood as falling into five different types. WPPs in each type differ in their work, the way they work, the money they earn, and their relations with local people. Among my informants, some WPPs can be seen to fit into more than one type while others fall only into one. These types are: (1) Old-hand WPPs, (2) Beginner WPPs, (3) Drunk WPPs, (4) Hired WPPs, and (5) Seasonal WPPs.


Waste Paper Picking, Migration, Informality,Ethnography, Istanbul.

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Journal of Ethnic and Cultural Studies  E-ISSN: 2149-1291

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