What remains of labour: the changing and unchanging working realms of African societies

Miles Larmer (University of Oxford)
Stefano Bellucci (Leiden University)
Deborah James (LSE) (first session); Andreas Eckert (Humboldt University Berlin) (second session)
David Hume, LG.06
Friday 14 June, 8:45-10:30
Friday 14 June, 10:45-12:30

Short abstract:

This panel explores the changing nature of labour, social stratification and social change in African societies from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.

Long abstract:

Connections and disruptions can be understood by examining, as the Call for Panels proposes, the "positionality of the observer: from the colonial administrator, to the African farmer, to the entrepreneur, to the nurse". This categorisation based on occupations reveals the centrality of the labour perspective. This panel focuses on labour in connection to two questions prioritised by ECAS 2019: social stratification and social change. 1. Marxian social sciences and historical research dealing with social stratification in Africa identified it with working class formation: stratification meant inequality between classes. This however assumed an understanding of 'workers' as formal sector employees in male-dominated workplaces, etc. In doing so, it tended to downplay or disregard key areas of labour and e.g. the informal sector, indigenous entrepreneurship, gendered dimension of work, child labour, etc. Can an enlarged view of labour in Africa provide a better understanding of social stratification? 2. Numerous studies show that in Africa inequality is increasing in a context of political liberalisation and globalisation. Does this contradiction arise from the fact that the optimistic view of African politics is not reflected in society (because more unequal) and the workplace (because more insecure and repressive)? If inequality is a form of social change, what is its direct link with labour transformations and casualization? What is different today from the past when labour in Africa was also overwhelmingly casual? The historical methodological approach is integrated with economic, sociological and anthropological perspectives.