Project of the Month: MMP

By Alison MacDermott

Posted: 28 June, 2022

HERA is pleased to present the next Project of the Month: MMP.

The Moving MarketPlaces (MMP) project investigates the role of ambulant traders in the everyday production of inclusive public spaces in Europe. Previous studies on marketplaces have frequently illustrated how markets are experienced and consumed as flexible spatial-temporal organisations that facilitate a spontaneous synergy between people of different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Markets are prototypical public spaces or “cosmopolitan canopies” where diverse people feel they have an equal right to be. MMP adds to this body of knowledge by focusing on the actors that make markets work: the traders. Through their mobility practices, they help to transform marketplaces into inclusive public spaces by brokering everyday interactions. Our research starts from two marketplaces in each of the four partner countries: one urban and one ‘not-so-urban’. From these eight entry-points, we applied an in-moment approach that enabled us to follow traders in their navigation to other localities, including other marketplaces, wholesalers, storage rooms and traders’ homes. As such, it developed into a translocal ethnography of traders and their navigation within and between different marketplaces, including the institutional barriers they encounter. Through the incorporation of key actors on national and transnational levels, we translated our findings to concrete policies for city planners, market managers, wardens and other place-makers on how we can promote more inclusive societies in Europe through supporting convivial social infrastructures. For more information, please visit our project website.

Project Name

Moving MarketPlaces (MMP): Following the Everyday Production of Inclusive Public Spaces

Project Team

Prof. dr. Janine Dahinden (University of Neuchâtel, CH)

Dr. Gunvor Jónsson (Open University, UK)

Dr. Maria Lindmäe (Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, ES)

Prof. dr. Marco Madella Pompeu Fabra University, Barcelona, ES)

Dr. Joanna Menet University of Neuchâtel, CH)

Dr. Joris Schapendonk (Radboud University, NL)

Emil van Eck, MSc (Radboud University, NL)

Dr. Rianne van Melik (Radboud University, NL)

Prof.dr. Sophie Watson (Open University, UK)

Previous team member: Dr. Markus Breines (Open University, UK)

Caption: Research team’s final meeting in Neuchâtel in May 2022.

Describe your project development to date

We started our project with many mutual discussions what a marketplace actually is. Through comparing first fieldwork experiences, it soon became clear that although markets might appear similar at first sight, their institutional and regulatory framework is very distinctive in each place. These differences also derive from different historical, socio-cultural, political and institutional contexts and are entangled in a web of supranational, national and local policy levels, as well as conflictive and collaborative relationships between stakeholders at these different levels.

We also discovered that there exist many myths about markets that influence research and policy on markets, which mask complex issues and realities of how markets, and their traders, operate at the different sites. One of such myths is that markets are unique and distinct local places, in terms of the origins of traders and customers and the products sold. Locality tends to be emphasised as a sign of quality in governmental and public imaginations, but in one of our forthcoming papers (MMP et al., 2022a) we illustrate that markets are very much connected to the wider world, and that their coming-into-being depends on social, material and institutional relations from elsewhere. Markets are thus simultaneously local places as well as temporary nodes in translocal mobility networks.

This research finding emerged from our relational mobility perspective, in which we followed traders in their daily activities. As such, we studied markets as inherently mobile spaces where flows of people and goods are temporarily ‘throwntogether’. Although such a mobile perspective is common in research on street vending practices, it is hardly used with respect to outdoor retail markets. This methodology also raised much debate within our team: who and what do we follow, where and when to begin and end the following? Consequently, our project not only contributes to our knowledge on marketplaces but also fosters methodological thinking. We argue that it is more productive to regard following not only as the physical process of following people, objects, knowledge, etc., but also as a theoretical and methodological openness that embraces and articulates the dynamic and non-linear character of ethnographic research practices (Breines et al., 2021).

By spending much time on markets and with traders, we have come to appreciate the complexity of the quotidian life of market traders. Far from actors involved simply providing affordable and accessible goods to local populations, what is revealed in our research is that markets are the products of considerable labour and skill on the part of traders, who often work 12-hour days to make the market happen (Watson, 2022). Our sonic research on Spanish markets further revealed the professional skill and cultural practice of pitching. Though pitching is often illegitimated by market regulations that aim to invoke civil behaviour, it can also shape more diverse marketplace atmospheres (Lindmäe, 2022).

Our project thus developed from our initial debates on what markets are and how they contribute to inclusive societies, to challenging ethnographic fieldwork starting in eight markets but bringing us to many other localities. It made us become more aware of all the practices ‘behind the scene’ required to make the market happen. Our aim was not to compare markets or national market policies, but to create a better understanding of the mechanisms behind the production of marketplaces as inclusive public spaces.


How did the pandemic impact on the project and how has the project adapted?

Nation states across Europe restricted access to, and use of, public spaces in 2020 and 2021 to prevent the further spread of COVID-19. Having left with partial access to markets or with no markets at all, our first reaction to this was the creation of two videos that reported on the many consequences that the suspension of markets was having on traders (Video 1; Video 2). Based on these observations, we argued that the corona crisis added a third process producing the ‘death’ of public space (Van Eck et al., 2020). In addition to the privatisation and commercialisation of public spaces, health-related regulations by local governments impacted the nature of public spaces as important meeting places, including marketplaces. However, the ‘temporary death’ of marketplaces came in different forms and intensities. Some markets were forced to close down through which all social interactions at the heart of their existence ceased to exist. Others were allowed to remain open but were subject to top-down imposed regulations that cut back the physical conditions of marketplaces which determine the development of social interactions and negations undergirding the nature of public spaces as social infrastructures.  In another joint paper (MMP et al., 2022b), we describe how markets did not simply stop functioning as public spaces. Rather, they took different forms that extended beyond their physical boundaries. These transformations have allowed for the continuation of the social and political dimensions of public space.

Caption: Spitalfield Wholesale Market. Some of the wholesale markets started deliveries of boxes directly to the customers’ houses.

Despite several lockdowns and restrictions due to the pandemic, we were still able to conduct our research and successfully adapt our methods to the new situation. When the markets were closed we followed up our connections with traders and managers and succeeded in conducting some phone or facetime interviews. This meant more interviews were conducted online than anticipated, including online interviews and focus groups with key actors and stake holders associated with markets such as market managers, local authorities and national representatives in the markets. We have also undertaken more archival research, investigating trade and council publications that are of relevance to markets.

Interesting Collaborations / Partnerships

MMP collaborates with a number of non-academic partners, first and foremost the traders that we following during our research. To create mutual benefits in our research process, we assisted the traders in their daily work activities, for example by helping them to build their stalls, transport merchandise and sell goods.

We partner with the World Union of Wholesale Markets (WUWM) and Project for Public Spaces (PPS), who were also present and presented during a knowledge exchange workshop we organized for public space researchers in June 2021. In May 2022, WUWM published an interview (p.17) about our research in their monthly newsletter. There we discussed some of the impacts that Covid-19 had on food markets and the wider results of our project. On the other hand, PPS’s newly established programme called ‘Market Cities’ provided a good platform to share our findings worldwide through their research library and blogs, such as our recent story on the dark side of market modernization (Van Eck, 2022). In the article, Emil takes a closer look at Amsterdam’s Plein ’40-’45 market where he has been conducting ethnographic research for the past three years. The numerous interviews with traders, market managers and policy-makers showed that on the basis of a new policy program, the municipality of Amsterdam plans to transform the market into an upscale Saturday-only market to attract new and more affluent customers. He argues that this might have a gentrifying effect on the market, threatening to displace its current users and diminish the social values that the market currently represents for both its visitors and traders.

Caption: Screenshot of the first seminar’s participants.

In a similarly academic and future-looking tone, Joanna Menet wrote a blogpost for the National Center of Competence in Research – The Migration-Mobility Nexus. There, she shared her vision of the potential future of a marketplace in 2050, taking into account changes in mobilities, delivery of goods and people’s distancing due to different waves of pandemics. Her post finishes with a positive note that “decentralized marketplaces, present in every neighborhood, will have a vital role to play in the distribution of food for each citizen.”

Also part of our research are multiple traders’ and market managers’ organisations, such as the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA) and the National Association of Market Traders (NMTF) in the UK, and the Centrale Vereniging voor Ambulante Handel (CVAH) in the Netherlands. They allowed us to disseminate our findings to an important set of (non-academic) stakeholders through their annual conferences and newsletters, such as Sophie Watson’s presentation on The Importance of Visions for Revitalising Markets at the 2022 NMTF Annual Conference in Blackpool.

Her talk on the importance of traders’ skills at the 2021 NABMA annual conference was also published in Market Times which is the leading publication for the traditional retail markets sector in the UK. In the article Sophie elaborates on the numerous professional skills that traders are required to have to be successful in their businesses and reminds the readers that markets do not just appear from nowhere but are rather the result of hard work, commitment, energy, enthusiasm and know-how of the traders.

Another exciting recent collaboration is a partnership between the UK team and two local photographers, who will be organizing a public exhibition at one of our case studies – Walthamstow market. Over two days in June 2022 the four collaborators will be running a stall which will serve as an exhibition space featuring photographic images from the market and boards with information about the important work being done by market traders in Walthamstow and elsewhere providing good value products and enhancing the life of the community. For the time of the exhibition, the researchers from the Open University and the two photographers will co-produce a booklet, postcards, and other items featuring the market that will be put on sale in the stall, with the profits going to a local homeless charity. The aim of the exhibition is to support the local market by showcasing the skills, experiences and contributions of market traders, thereby creating more public awareness of the market in Walthamstow and beyond.

Project Outputs

The project has so far resulted in a number of peer-reviewed, international articles (see publications below) and the publication of an edited volume (Sezer & Van Melik, 2022). In addition, we have produced several videos and media articles and held two online seminars.

In June 2021 we organized our first online seminar where scholars from all around the world were invited to share their work on marketplaces. The webinar consisted of nine presentations that were divided into the three thematic blocks that our own research project was founded upon: place, mobility and institutions.

Our second webinar took place in May 2022 and this time it was focused on sharing the research outcomes of our project. The findings were presented through two collective interviews, the launching of the Marketplaces: Movements, Representations and Practices book by its editors, Ceren Sezer and Rianne van Melik, and three snap insights in different formats. In the first one, Maria Lindmäe shared some of her insights of how market traders’ pitching can add affect and creativity to marketplaces that are increasingly submitted to restrictive regulations and dominant norms of ‘civic’ behavior. In the second session of snap insights Joanna Menet and Emil van Eck showed the timelapse videos that they had conducted in a Swiss and a Dutch marketplace, accompanying the videos with their thoughts on how the mobility and rhythmicity of traders shapes the production of markets as public space. In the final round of short insights, Gunvor Jónsson introduced the British team’s collaboration with Walthshamstow market’s photographers with whom a photo exhibition will be held at the end of June 2022. At the end of the webinar we also discussed the possible future(s) of marketplaces, taken into account aspects such as the demographic changes, Covid-19 crisis and online sales which are all posing challenges to traders’ livelihoods.

The UK MMP held a two day exhibition on the Walthamstow Market June 24th-25th in collaboration with two local artists – Llyod and Lourice Ramos who have been taking photographs in the market for some years.

The exhibition included postcards, posters and a booklet based on our research- attached here. Many locals and visitors stopped by the stall and bought items from the exhibition and talked to the researchers and the UK MMP team.

See the whole list of our outputs below:

Moreover, there are a number of presentations and other videos available, see

And blogs:


Skillfully designing market stalls to attract customers

Buy local – fruits from the region

The hard labour of (de)constructing market stalls

The hard labour of (de)constructing market stalls

Market's recovery after COVID-19

Markets as a public space for protests


marketplace. In: Sezer, C. & R. Van Melik (Eds.) Marketplaces: Movements, Representations

and Practices.  London: Routledge.

  • Sezer, C. & R. Van Melik (2023) (Eds.) Marketplaces: Movements, Representations and Practices. London: Routledge.
  • Van Eck, E., R. Van Melik & J. Schapendonk (2023) The multi-scalar nature of policy im/mobilities: Regulating “local” marketplaces in the Netherlands. In: Sezer, C. & R. Van Melik (Eds.) Marketplaces: Movements, Representations and Practices. London: Routledge.


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