Accepted paper:

Becoming Big: Rejecting Wage Work as a Dead End


Merel van Wout (African Studies Centre Leiden)

Paper short abstract:

This paper offers an account of Tamale's Gameboys who purposely reject wage employment and consider online scamming as an alternative pathway to acquire "bigness". It examines young men's conceptualisations of work and its relation to historical and contemporary understandings of wealth and power.

Paper long abstract:

This paper looks at the perceptions of young men in Tamale (Ghana) who consider online scamming as a way to combat their precarious living situations and aspire to better and more liveable futures. Whilst many of their peers strive to finish their education and worry about the palpable lack of job prospects, these young men reject conventional narratives that link employment to attaining "bigness" and pride themselves on being "realistic" in doing so. Work, they muse, is often synonymous with "hand-to-mouth jobs" - degrading, boring and insufficiently paid to reach "the next level". Moreover, wage work cannot be separated from society's hierarchical power relations that these young men are so keenly aware of. In examining Tamale's gameboys rationale for refuting wage jobs, this paper highlights young men's conceptualisations of work and its link to ideas of aspiration and success. The gameboys do not aspire to work for stability, a mediocre income, or to earn prestige through their employment. Instead, gameboys imagine proper work as a gateway to "become big". In unpacking youth's conception of "bigness", this paper sheds light on new narratives of work amongst Tamale's youth that celebrate online scamming as a realistic alternative to wage work. By drawing attention to both historical and contemporary elements in youth's understanding of wealth and power in northern Ghana, this paper argues that Tamale's gameboys refuse wage employment and instead aspire to "bigness" via alternative means.

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