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Accepted Paper:

Requisition by the outstretched hand: Relation-making as work in an economy of cash-hunting  


Peter Lockwood (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

Based on 20 months of fieldwork in Kenya, this paper explores two cases where work is not the acquisition of cash but an investment in social relationships. It discusses the hierarchical chains of dependence that prop-up incomes in wage-less contexts and the affective labour of friendship.

Paper long abstract:

'As a man, you must get up early in the morning and do something to get money'.

Such is the discursive moralisation of the predicament in which most Kenyans find themselves. Devoid of any state support, without permanent employment or security of income, cash-hunting in the informal economy is practically the norm. In a part of the world that barely experienced the 'Fordist' manufacturing boom and the expansion of employment it brought, economic life is lived primarily through precarious social relationships, the means and ends of social reproduction. Becoming parents and establishing middle-class households is a common aspiration, often pursued in the absence of economic security. Kenyans turn to each other, not least well-off 'sponsors' and 'sustainers' in their families and neighbourhoods, for financial support.

This paper turns our attention towards 'relation-making' as one of Kenyans' 'artful strategies in addressing the challenges and uncertainties of capitalism'. Drawing on over 20 months of ethnographic fieldwork spent in peri-urban central Kenya, it explores two parallel cases (one involving adult women, another urban youth) where 'work' is not so much the acquisition of cash, but an investment in social relationships. It speaks to the hierarchical chains of dependence that prop up incomes in wage-less contexts, and the 'affective labour' of friendship, tried and tested as it often is. It ends by asking if citizenship in both Southern and Northern contexts might not be better be thought of under the rubric of hunting, soliciting and claiming rather than 'care' or 'dependence' outright.

Panel P100
Rethinking work, power and social reproduction in and beyond Europe [Anthropology of Labour Network]