Accepted paper:

Stop-gap work, multiple occupations and livelihood trajectories: The complex entanglements of life, labour and work amongst young Ghanaian craftsmen


Niamh Jane Clifford Collard (SOAS, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

Looking at how multiple occupations are enmeshed with social reciprocity, the search for respect, and the sustenance of hope amongst young craftsmen, this paper considers what an ethnography of livelihoods in Ghana can bring to debates about neoliberal precarity and post-work.

Paper long abstract:

The social dislocations wrought by capitalism's ongoing crises have, since 2008, engendered debates in the Global North situating precarity and insecure work as the modus operandi of neoliberalism (Lorey, 2015). This recognition has sparked renewed interest in what post-work futures might look like (Srnicek & Williams, 2016), with the possibilities and pitfalls that come with the automation of work and Universal Basic Income sparking interest across the political spectrum. Questions of how people navigate life without stable work are, however, not new, and sub-Saharan Africa's experience of colonial expropriation, structural adjustment and millennial capitalism (Comaroff & Comaroff, 2012) have much to teach us about how life is lived, futures imagined, and hope kept alive amidst the depredations of capital. Drawn from an ethnography of a weaving workshop in southern Ghana, this paper engages with Hannah Arendt's distinction between work and labour to consider how young men forge meaningful livelihoods and hopes for the future in a context where stable, waged work is all but absent. Looking at how relations of reciprocity, mutual support and the search for social respect are bound up with young men's complex engagements with stop-gap work, multiple occupations and future imaginaries, the material seeks to productively link young Ghanaian craftsmen's rich livelihood experiences with current debates about neoliberal precarity, post-work and the future of capitalism. Furthermore, considering the enduring allure of stable waged work for young craftsmen for whom that has never been a reality, the paper looks at the constitutive role of desire and hope.

panel Econ17
Disrupting the wage: post-work futures within and beyond Africa