EASA2012: Uncertainty and disquiet

Nanterre University, France, 10/07/2012 – 13/07/2012

(IW009)

Coping with uncertainty in the South African economy

Location Theatre S2
Date and Start Time 11 Jul, 2012 at 11:30

Convenors

Keith Hart (London School of Economics) email
Sophie Chevalier (University of Picardie Jules Verne) email
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Short Abstract

How do South Africans connect the human economy of everyday lives they know well with the vagaries of the national and world economy which they do not? Topics might include money and debt; work and unemployment; informal economy; property and distribution; consumption; race and class; religion.

Long Abstract

Durkheim taught us that people seek to build institutional bridges between what they know, their everyday lives, and what they don't know, the great unknowns. What we don't know, he said, is how we belong to each other in society. The sociologist's task is to make it easier to understand the larger processes that shape our lives. Here we examine how ordinary South Africans construct meaningful connections between what is familiar to them and the uncertainties introduced by the national and world economy. Ethnographers will report on how people place their own economic circumstances in a wider context and/or they will provide explanations which might serve to educate the public about what concerns them.

For many it is perplexing that the end of apartheid has not led to economic emancipation for the poor black majority. The trajectories of different races and classes form part of the economic picture that individuals have to make sense of. The property system and distribution of wealth is increasingly called into question. Mass unemployment and the vagaries of the informal economy are related to high levels of violence and crime. Yet people everywhere combine plural sources of income in their search for some stability of livelihood or even improvement. It is not surprising that many South Africans turn to religion and their own self-organized institutions, such as savings clubs, for a measure of protection. Money (including credit/debt) is both a source of economic vulnerability and the main way we have of making economic life meaningful.

Chair: Deborah James
Discussant: Keith Hart

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The redistributive economy: insecurity, insurance, and ontologies of wealth in Cape Town, South Africa

Author: Erik Bähre (Universiteit Leiden)  email
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Short Abstract

In South Africa, political liberation has been followed by an unprecedented expansion of redistributive arrangements.This paper reveals why redistribution has become central to the experience of political liberation, bringing about its own ontology of mutual obligations and wealth.

Long Abstract

In South Africa, political liberation has been followed by an unprecedented expansion of large-scale redistributive arrangements. Despite democratisation in 1994, the market remains out of reach for the poor and uneducated as jobs remain scarce and entrepreneurs rarely succeed. Political liberation has resulted in a shift towards redistributive arrangements. The study of large-scale redistribution opens up a whole new panorama on the acquisition and control of wealth, mutual dependencies, and reciprocal obligations. Based on extensive research, mostly in two African townships in Cape Town, this paper reveals why so many South Africans put their faith in redistribution. Redistribution has become central to the experience of political liberation, bringing about its own ontology with respect to mutual obligations and expectations of wealth. This study reveals that redistribution, which is part of the market but also more than the market, implies new forms of sociality and the reconfiguration of violence.

"We have all become individuals here": poor whites in Pretoria

Author: John Sharp (University of Pretoria)  email
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Short Abstract

Pretoria’s white working class has lost out since the end of apartheid. They generate their own small enterprises and complain about cut-throat competition in South Africa’s neoliberal economy. But their responses to current economic uncertainty retain the capacity for mutual assistance and solidarity.

Long Abstract

Unemployment and poverty in post-apartheid South Africa follow the contours not just of race, but also of class. Here I deal with the new 'poor whites' in Pretoria which had a substantial white working class during apartheid.

They were given preferential employment in the heavy industries - iron and steel, armaments and munitions - of West Pretoria. These depended on state support and the country's pariah status. When South Africa joined the global economy in the 1990s, many were shut down, leading to mass retrenchment of white workers. Other large industries have grown up since then, but new codes of employment equity and redress make it hard for white jobseekers. Black empowerment of this kind was one way national and international capital forestalled more radical economic restructuring after apartheid.

Capital - still predominantly white - benefits substantially, but white ex-workers are paying the price. They turn mainly to their own small enterprises, often blurring the boundary between formal and informal sectors. This paper draws on my field research on who starts these enterprises, who works in them, and who fails to find employment there.

Many of my informants say of the post-apartheid period 'we have all become individuals here'. They contrast today's cut-throat competition unfavourably with white, working-class solidarity before. The dog-eat-dog conditions they complain about, however, are tempered by new forms of mutual assistance.

Pretoria's white working class has not yet lost all sources of solidarity and this makes their responses to current economic uncertainties worth examining.

'Letting money work for us": self-organization and financialization-from-below in an all-male savings club in Soweto

Author: Detlev Krige (University of Pretoria)  email
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Short Abstract

Based on ethnographic research conducted on economic institutions in Soweto and Johannesburg, this paper explores the themes of uncertainty and nostalgia through the lens of savings and credit clubs.

Long Abstract

Recent financial crises have turned the eyes of academics, activists and citizens to the hitherto obscured role of global finance - outside of the well-documented role of the IMF and World Bank - in shaping national economies, the dynamics of currency fluctuations, and surging inflation. Anthropologists too have turned their attention to the social organisation and culture of finance (Ho 2009, Zaloom 2006) while a growing body of literature on finacialisation points to the phenomenal growth of finance-related trade and speculation in financial markets (Epstein 2005, Martin 2002). In this paper, I want to contribute to this debate by demonstrating how, through a small savings club in Soweto formed by male working class men from the same neighbourhood, citizens appropriate the world of finance for their own social and economic ends - how through finance they make their economy human, even in times of greater uncertainty, growing inequality and a nostalgic longing for order. Whereas club members are to some extent dependent on the global organisation of finance and markets, finance itself opens up spaces of self-organization and experimentation with forms of solidarity that could be described as forms of financialisation from below.

Value, solidarity, and life course in South Africa

Author: Hylton White (University of the Witwatersrand)  email
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Short Abstract

How is solidarity constructed and contested in conditions of unemployment, insecurity and debt? This paper explores how ordinary South Africans experience the warrants and the limits of their obligations to others in the context of the ties that surround the development of the life course in contemporary Zulu households.

Long Abstract

The global economic crisis has sharpened debates about social solidarity in many parts of the world. As we seek to understand and intervene in these discussions, what can we learn from places such as South Africa, where mass unemployment, debt and economic insecurity have been the default conditions of collective life for more than a generation now. Drawing on extensive ethnographic research on relationships in Zulu households, this paper explores how ordinary South Africans experience the warrants and the limits of their obligations to others in the context of the ties that surround the development of the life course. The emphasis is on understanding how transfers of economic value shape the personal life course, and how this produces ethical controversies in a situation where interpersonal ties depend on impersonal forms of socioeconomic interdependence.

Living together apart: some land restitution implications for the living and the dead in Ingogo (KZN)

Author: Antonadia Borges (University of Brasília)  email
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Short Abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork carried intermittently over the last six years, we accompanied the process of a plea for land restitution initiated by a Zulu family from rural KZN to its end, in order to understand how socioeconomic and emotional issues, with consequences that disturb both the living and the dead, emerge during the implementation of a public policy.

Long Abstract

Ingogo (KZN) is a sort of a hub connecting social ties within time and space. Over the last century Zulu speakers living in this rural area have experienced both displacements and immobility related to overwhelming white ownership of land in the region. Those forcefully removed have imaginatively extended their boarders to faraway places like the townships around Johannesburg. Those who stayed have prudently built a pillar concept of home for their living and their dead, whenever or wherever they stay. Recent land restitution processes in the region have brought together those who have spread out throughout time (whether living or ancestors) and space (inhabitants of townships and cities and those living on farms). Dealing with historically inherited inequalities, public policies established in Ingogo address different social groups according to their previous status or relationship to the land. In other words, their location in a broad range of governmental categories that go from private ownership to farm dwelling, among others, are tracked down. Inside those brackets, however various and heterogeneous, experiences are summed up according to kinship ties broadly understood as a clear expression of conviviality, reciprocity and common interests among people of the same "family". Different and distant social experiences intertwined throughout the last decades are underestimated, and therefore, those who have stayed and those who have moved to towns are forced into a contentious encounter that very few understand as fair or healing.

Harnessing the ancestors: uncertainty and ritual practice in the Eastern Cape province

Author: Andrew Ainslie (University of Reading)  email
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Short Abstract

Chronic economic uncertainty has seen social relations reach breaking point. One response is a turn to ritual: through a relentless schedule of ritual invoking the ancestors and other deities, Xhosa people attempt to secure investment in the rural home and sustain ties of reciprocity with urban kin.

Long Abstract

In the Eastern Cape, chronic economic uncertainty has seen social relations stretched to breaking point. Informants speak of a 'war between men and women'. While poverty, death in the shape of the 'axe' HIV/AIDS and suspicion stalk the land, and the project of building the umzi (homestead) falters, hope for the future and with it, trust between people, leaches away. One response to such uncertainty is a turn to ritual. Through a nearly relentless schedule of ritual activity which invokes the ancestors and the Christian deity in various forms, Xhosa people attempt to dam up trust, secure ongoing investment in the rural homestead and sustain ties of reciprocity both among rural people and between them and their urban kin. In this paper, I explore how - through their selective engagement with specific cultural norms - it is especially rurally-resident male heads of cattle-holding homesteads who endorse the use and exchange of cattle for consumption in ritual slaughter. I show that it is by rhetorically and practically linking ritual to the central cultural tropes of ukwakh'umzi [to build the home] and masincedisane [let us help each other] - and specifically by emphasising the 'homestead-strengthening' consumption of traditional beer and animals slaughtered in rituals - that older men and women seek to exercise some ritually sanctioned control over the differentiated, fragmented and fragile social and economic relationships at homestead and village levels.

The im/possibility of policing intellectual property

Author: Julia Hornberger (University of Zurich)  email
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Short Abstract

The paper explores the kind of policing which emerges as police officers are being put into a position of establishing and protecting, through a modus of private public partnerships, property relations and the extraction of value from a commodity which actually pushes towards being freely available and therefore ultimately withstands the possibility of being policed.

Long Abstract

Efforts around the so-called second enclosure are rife. We are witnessing the technological advancements that make the unprecedented circulation of ideas, knowledge and information possible; and we are confronted with an economy shifting from traditional sources of the production of wealth to new forms of value deriving from 'immaterial labour.' These developments are accompanied and underwritten by accelerated proliferation of technologies of law enforcement, which aim at defining, protecting and policing intellectual property. CD and DVD piracy is one of the ubiquitous but highly contested forms in terms of property relations and value in which these developments have inserted itself into everyday life in South Africa, be it the everyday life of trading, consuming or policing. Based on an ethnography of the commercial crime unit in Johannesburg, the papers looks at how the (morally) contested nature of DVD piracy makes the policing of it an impossible but nevertheless productive undertaking. It shows how policing fails to beat the illicit trade, and how this leads to a breakdown of the meaning of policing, but yet produces alternative moral economies and manages to extract from it a different kind of value which is used to refashion policing and its powers.

How to consume? Shopping and consumption practices among Durban's middle classes

Author: Sophie Chevalier (University of Picardie Jules Verne)  email
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Short Abstract

After apartheid a vast range of consumer choice opened up which was the exclusive preserve of Whites before. Based on a Durban field study, I examine the consumer behaviour of different middle-class groups. Non-whites feel like novices in this situation and must go into debt in order to consume.

Long Abstract

Since 2008 I have carried out ethnographic research in Durban on the new middle classes (across a range of racial categories). If consumption is considered to be central to the formation of an African middle class, one peculiarity of the South African case is notable. During the late apartheid era, access to high-end consumption generally and to shopping malls on particular was largely restricted to Whites. Non-white members of the new middle class often feel themselves to be novice consumers; and are uncertain of the basis for making choices. Moreover, unlike the Whites, most of them have no capital, savings or inheritance to draw on and must go into debt if they wish to consume on any scale (housing, cars, luxury goods). Knowledge of international brands offers a kind of shopping guide for many of these insecure consumers.

The plethora of shopping malls today, when taken with the development of national chains of clothes and food shops, are becoming a powerful symbol of modernity and economic democracy, even if the majority are still excluded from effective participation to a significant extent. As in North America and Europe earlier, consumption expresses national identity, but now also being part of the world economy. But a focus on food shopping shows the persistence of regional and communal variations as well as the emergence of a hemispheric anglophone culture.

Between obligation and freedom: the perplexities of indebtedness in South Africa

Author: Deborah James (LSE)  email
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Short Abstract

Exploring the interface between community, market and the state, the paper

shows how South African householders’ indebtedness contradictorily involves both detachment from dependents and intensified obligations/embeddedness

Long Abstract

In South Africa, with upward mobility much aspired-to but seldom attained, householders must spend money they have not yet earned. Requesting credit both from formal institutions and moneylenders/financial mutuals positions them uneasily: in order to disconnect/disembed themselves from dependents in one register, they acquire intensified obligations in another. The value sought is based on models of class distinction/"respectability", yet its seekers, becoming indebted, often spiral into economic crisis. The freedom to establish value in an optative, performative manner may be compromised. Exploring the interface between community, market and the state, the paper challenges binaries of political/moral economy, and formal/informal economy.

This workshop is closed to new paper proposals.