Accepted paper:

Bar groups as resilience: urban migration, informal employment, and economic support networks at the margins in Kampala, Uganda


Megan Schmidt-Sane (Case Western Reserve University)

Paper short abstract:

Kampala, Uganda is a rapidly growing and stratifying urban city. A majority of individuals migrate from rural areas and are employed in the urban informal economy. Support networks, known as bar groups, provide a buffer against economic scarcity and fragility that punctuates life at the margins.

Paper long abstract:

Contemporary Kampala, Uganda is a burgeoning city with a high level of economic inequality. Individuals migrate from rural areas to urban Kampala to seek better job opportunities. A majority end up working in the informal economy. At the same time, Ugandan policy has led to a crack-down on the informal economy in an attempt to regulate the sector. This has created high barriers to job entry, especially in marginalized communities. This paper examines the interplay of political and economic factors and the resulting bar groups that arise as a form of economic support networks to buffer against policy-level stress.

This research focuses on one female sex work community, where a majority of resident men are no longer able to find stable employment (Schmidt-Sane, 2018). In this precarious environment, men form economic support networks locally termed "bar groups" to share resources, information, and social support. These bar groups are a local form of resilience. Concomitantly, they facilitate vulnerability to health risks such as increased drinking, drug use, and unsafe sex. In a local informal economy driven by female sex work, men are reliant on bar groups. Similar to work by Bourgois (2002), this research finds that bar groups are a paradoxical example of resilience and vulnerability, depending on context. It is in this context that men are redefining rational individual action, furthering our anthropological conceptualization of vulnerability and resilience.

panel P013
Urban economies which make you stay [Anthropology of Economy Network]