Coping with uncertainty in the South African economy

Keith Hart (University of Pretoria)
Sophie Chevalier (University of Picardie Jules Verne)
Deborah James
Keith Hart
Theatre S2
Start time:
11 July, 2012 at 11:30
Session slots:

Short abstract:

How do South Africans connect the human economy of everyday lives they know well with the vagaries of the national and world economy which they do not? Topics might include money and debt; work and unemployment; informal economy; property and distribution; consumption; race and class; religion.

Long abstract:

Durkheim taught us that people seek to build institutional bridges between what they know, their everyday lives, and what they don't know, the great unknowns. What we don't know, he said, is how we belong to each other in society. The sociologist's task is to make it easier to understand the larger processes that shape our lives. Here we examine how ordinary South Africans construct meaningful connections between what is familiar to them and the uncertainties introduced by the national and world economy. Ethnographers will report on how people place their own economic circumstances in a wider context and/or they will provide explanations which might serve to educate the public about what concerns them. For many it is perplexing that the end of apartheid has not led to economic emancipation for the poor black majority. The trajectories of different races and classes form part of the economic picture that individuals have to make sense of. The property system and distribution of wealth is increasingly called into question. Mass unemployment and the vagaries of the informal economy are related to high levels of violence and crime. Yet people everywhere combine plural sources of income in their search for some stability of livelihood or even improvement. It is not surprising that many South Africans turn to religion and their own self-organized institutions, such as savings clubs, for a measure of protection. Money (including credit/debt) is both a source of economic vulnerability and the main way we have of making economic life meaningful.