This paper presents an examination of the political, social and economic coordinates of informal housing in Turkey within an analytical framework in which the complex interaction between the organizing principles of reciprocity, redistribution and exchange is taken into account. The discussion is centered on two ideas: (1) both redistribution and reciprocity incorporate a moral principle which can be defined as ‘the unequal treatment of the unequal’ as opposed to the moral neutrality of market exchange which takes place between formally equal trading partners; and (2) in certain contexts where redistributive processes are not institutionalized in a rule‐based, depersonalized manner but involve relations which take place within informal networks of reciprocity, the element of moral relativity that forms their basis might lead to situations where they lose their legitimacy and generate negative social consequences. The paper thus introduces a moral dimension into the discussion of informal sector activity by complementing Karl Polanyi’s approach with Marshall Sahlins’ typology of different types of reciprocity and shows that particular systems of redistribution might lead to the emergence of forms of negative reciprocity which shape both the market and the political process in a highly undesirable manner.
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