'Wheelbarrow livelihoods', urban space and antinomies of survival in Ibadan, Southwest Nigeria
(University of Ibadan)
Paper short abstract:
Wheelbarrows function as tools of goods conveyance and instrument of work but they have also taken on new roles as 'mobile shops' appropriated for street trade. The study profiles urban subjects whose lives and livelihoods depend on wheelbarrows and show how they reconfigure urban space in Nigeria.
Paper long abstract:
In many Nigerian cities, wheelbarrows are a common sight in markets, neighbourhoods and other areas where business opportunities exist. Within market particularly, wheelbarrows function as tools of goods conveyance and instrument of work and survival among urban poor. However, because of the surge in urban population, worsening unemployment, widespread poverty, and the high cost of, and diminished access to, urban space, wheelbarrows are taking on new roles as 'mobile shops' appropriated for street trade. This study profiles the urban subjects whose lives and livelihoods depend on wheelbarrows, describes the dynamics of economic activities symbolised by this tool, and analyses the processes through which wheelbarrow dependent workforce reconfigure urban space in everyday encounters with formal and informal space managers who secure, tax, and exploit space and space users. The exploratory study employs qualitative techniques of in-depth interviews, non-participant observation and pictures to collect information on the background, motivations, and encounters of people trading with wheelbarrows in Ibadan, Southwest Nigeria. Findings show that marginal economic actors reckon and respond to survival constraints of the city by investing in wheelbarrows and creating a livelihood that embodies personal agency. In the day-to-day interaction with formal and informal space managers, wheelbarrow dependent people deploy 'mobile shops' in ways that contradict, counteract or contest official rules, positions and actions in urban spaces. In conclusion, the study argues that 'wheelbarrow livelihoods' challenge elitist space governance rules and play an active role in reconfiguring space and negotiating mobility and access to the urban environment.
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