The livelihood of selling goods on street corners began centuries ago, but as the social needs, cultural relevance, and economic needs of individuals and groups involved in these sales changed from rural to urban and from a homogeneous to a heterogeneous population, so did the face of individuals referred to as “street hawkers”. The purpose of this study is to bring attention to and to carefully examine the lives of those persons living and selling newspapers on the streets of Newark, New Jersey. Due to loss of employment, drug addiction, mental disease, and insufficient income, in essence characteristics of the ghetto poor, Newark has seen a rise in a special population of urban survivors known as street hawkers. The research methodology used for this study is a carefully constructed combination of action research and ethnography. The ethnographic study consisted of eight interviews of individuals seeking to give a true and realistic view of a day in the life of a street hawker. The action research dimension offers an opportunity to examine a kind of self-actualized leadership and change as persons seek to take control of their own life circumstances. This study also serves to dispel the myth that street hawkers have no other skills, don’t want to work or lack motivation to succeed. According to O’Donohue, as quoted by Thomas-El (2006), “Compassion is the ability to step outside our perspective, limitations and ego, and become more attentive in a vulnerable, encouraging, critical, and creative way with the hidden world of another person.”(p.105). Hawkers represent varied ethnic, gender, socioeconomic, social status and life experiences.
The study was conducted as a result of carefully and systematically developed observations and interviews that were developed into a documentary transcribing and highlighting eight of seventeen street hawkers. The selection of the eight was based on interviewer choice, information provided in the interview, and approval of participants. However, although this study utilizes the documentary material as a data source, it is a more expansive and detailed analysis of the ethnographic, phenomenological, leadership, and change aspects of the interviews.
The study findings indicate that street hawkers have effective basic business skills enabling them to negotiate with their employers and sell to the public, as well as to manage the risks to their own security and safety. They have developed an organized system on which they can depend and one that allows for “the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts and as such, recognize that it is the total pattern that determines its essence” (Berman, 1996, p. 35). In systems terms, they are not only a subculture but a subsystem of workers in a vast network of subcultures, occupations, professions, and communities in metropolitan Newark.
Key words: Street hawkers, Peddlers, urban poor, Entrepreneurship, Subculture, motivation, Self-actualized, Symbolic interaction, Ethnography, Phenomenology, Systems theory