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The morality of informality: Exploring binary oppositions in counterfeit markets

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Shoaib Ul Haq



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Sage Publications Ltd, 2022.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


In seeking to explain the persistence of the informal economy – defined as the set of economic activities that are illegal yet legitimate to some large groups – scholars often focus on instrumental economic factors; in doing so, the role of morality is often overlooked. In response, we conduct a qualitative study of Pakistani counterfeit bazaars, to understand how market participants construct moral legitimacy in a way that justifies participation in, and thus contributes to sustaining, the informal economy. We reveal how the terms “counterfeit” (representing the informal economy) and “authentic” (representing the formal economy) function as an oppositional pair, both within the emic perspective of market participants but also within a baseline etic perspective of Western Intellectual Property (IP) regimes. Compared with this baseline, we find that market participants engage in three types of semantic transformation (invalidation, reframing and inversion) that shape moral assessments of authentic and counterfeit consumption. Through our study, we firstly contribute to a better understanding of how legitimacy in the informal economy is constructed. We also contribute to theory on “legitimacy as perception”, indicating how moral legitimization can occur through a dynamic of binary opposition between what is deemed to be “moral” and “immoral”. Our final contribution is towards understanding how morality around counterfeit consumption is constructed.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Abid M, Bothello J, Ul-Haq S, Ahmadsimab A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Organization Studies

Year: 2022

Pages: Epub ahead of print

Online publication date: 30/08/2022

Acceptance date: 02/04/2018

Date deposited: 07/09/2022

ISSN (print): 0170-8406

ISSN (electronic): 1741-3044

Publisher: Sage Publications Ltd


DOI: 10.1177/01708406221124796


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