The politics of refusing work in contemporary South Africa
Hannah Dawson (Wits University)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the social, economic and moral logics that underpin and give meaning to urban youth's rejection of the capitalist wage relation in favor of alternative economic livelihoods. It also sheds light on the political significance of refusing wage work under contemporary capitalism.
Paper long abstract:
Unemployment is typically understood as an imposed condition due to the absence of a job and one that is synonymous with precariousness and abjection. This paper challenges this assumption by suggesting unemployment may not inevitably or always result from a lack of jobs, showing instead how precarious and insecure wage employment is at times rejected in favor of alternative economic livelihoods. Through ethnographic research with 'unemployed' young men engaged in non-market economic practices in an informal settlement in Johannesburg, this paper sheds light on the social, economic and moral logics that underpin and give meaning to urban youth's rejection of the capitalist wage relation. The paper focuses on youth's conceptions of (il)legitimate labour and its relationship to their expectations of citizenship, and the persistence of racial inequalities in the post-apartheid workplace. The paper contends that the refusal of work is not only an expression of discontent with a neoliberal and still racially ordered economy but also involves a positive aspiration and moral demand for a more 'just' and 'fair' distribution of resources. While there is an extensive literature on non-capitalist modes of accumulation ('hustling', 'zig-zagging' and 'improvising') in Africa, less scholarly attention has been paid to the explicit rejection of the capitalist wage-relation. This paper offers an argument for why this might be, but ultimately sheds light on the political significance of the refusal of wage work under contemporary capitalism and its potential for developing our empirical and theoretical understandings of work beyond and outside the wage economy.
Disrupting the wage: post-work futures within and beyond Africa