The unemployed in Africa: redistribution, time, and the meaning of productivity 
Gregor Dobler (Institut für Ethnologie)
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Start time:
29 June, 2017 at 14:00 (UTC+0)
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Short Abstract:

Underemployment and unemployment are pervasive phenomena in Africa. The panel's contributions use descriptions of everyday life in unemployment to discuss its social consequences - in particular reconfigurations of distribution economies and the meaning attached to time and productivity.

Long Abstract

For a long time, African Studies ignored the unemployed. Workers, often migrant workers, came into the focus of the social sciences since the 1930s, but unemployment did not seem an issue. Whoever lost his or her job could, it seemed, either smoothly reintegrate into the subsistence economy, or find a living in the urban 'informal sector'. Since employment was not the norm, unemployment did not seem a very important topic.

This has changed over the last decades. A number of studies have concentrated on the problems of young people whose hopes of social participation by employment continue do be dashed, and whose life is shaped by 'waithood' and the search for meaning. Networks of redistribution and debt have emerged as precarious alternatives forms of subsistence. Since wages are often redistributed from towns to villages, redistribution transforms the links between urban and rural parts of the society.

The panel invites contributions that combine nuanced perspectives on experiences of unemployment with differentiated analysis of its consequences. Contributions should be grounded in thick empirical descriptions of unemployed life in Africa, and build on them to address the relation between unemployment, the meaning attached to time and economic productivity, and networks of redistribution. Contributions from historians concentrating on earlier phases of unemployment are as welcome as presentations on the contemporary social and cultural dimensions of unemployment.

Accepted papers: