Accepted paper:

The (endless) making of a rural working class. Classification, belonging and fragmentation in the industrial plantations of contemporary Cameroon


Guillaume VADOT (IMAF / Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne)

Paper short abstract:

The paper aims at assessing the ways entering one of the Cameroonian plantation complexes reshapes (or not) the social perceptions among the workers. The production of difference and inclusion are scrutinized through an intersectional approach and the renewed tools of popular classes sociology.

Paper long abstract:

Cameroon is a country of large-scale plantations, several complexes being the main employers after the State. The tens of thousands who work there find themselves in an ambiguous situation, as the almost sole fraction of Cameroonian lower classes who have access to formal employment, in a geographically concentrated way moreover. This paper aims at exploring how the plantation reshapes (or not) their experience and self-perception. To that end, we draw on the contributions of a sociology of work but also of popular classes which has renewed itself over the past two decades, paying greater attention to the making of identity outside the work-place, to endogenous classifications, but also to the forms of cultural separation from more privileged groups. Assessing a large sample of interviews (212 employed persons, including 156 fieldworkers) and observations in the fields, factories and compounds of three enterprises (sugar, rubber and bananas), we aim at identifying different ways of entering the plantation and coping with it, most of them being temporary. If work and the labour regime shape a strong common experience - the basis of daily and sometimes more generalized confrontations -, a range of exogenous resources also draws patterns of dignities and indignities. The occupational hierarchy at work resorts to gender and ethnicity - but also workers themselves, with their own agenda. We shall also scrutinize the existence of a portion of the labour force which claims a "workers" identity: who are they, and what does this new sense of belonging reveal?

panel Anth39
Stories of a rural African working class