The Search for Economic Sovereignty

Book Section (Chapter)

“Slums” on the outskirts of many global cities signal not only the fact of deepening inequalities under neoliberalism, but equally the integration of local markets within broader circuits of capital and the remaking of cities primarily as sites of international production through the “localization of globalization.” But what few commentators from the United Nations Human Settlements Programme to scholars the likes of Mike Davis have been able to explain are the effective mechanisms of survival in operation in so-called “slums.” Davis has as much as acknowledged that while we face an “epochal transition” in the location of populations in relation to work opportunities, or rather the near total absence of such opportunities, how people make do remains a puzzle and for economists a “wage puzzle.” How indeed, do ordinary people, almost a billion at last count, confront the challenges of social reproduction under conditions of almost total disarticulation from wage work? This essay seeks to address the “wage puzzle” not so much in economistic terms but rather through a theoretical engagement with the terms of lived experience. Drawing on research in Cape Town, specifically on the immiserated margins of South Africa’s gateway city to the rest of the Continent, I argue that social reproduction is better understood in precisely the terms that are so critical to the larger volume Hard Work, Hard Times: Global Volatility and African Subjectivities. And that moving away from simple explanations of the informalization of the economy that instead we need to think about the politics of bare life: the linkages between housing and the reproduction of labor power; what kinds of new subjectivities emerge in the face of the disarticulation of daily life from circuits of capital and commodities; what forms of desire are shaped by austerity; and how does austerity refigure, often enough, complex practices of money exchange, lending, and abstention. How, for example, is it that in contexts of spiraling debt, exorbitant interest rates, and land speculation—all symptoms of the transnationalization of cities—that institutions of money lending, saving, and banking amongst the poor should mirror the logics of global capital. Here there seems at issue a matter of scale or articulation. More properly, to what degree are the crisis tendencies of capitalism reflected in micro-practices of the poor and what forms of ingenuity are necessary to redirecting what Stephen Jackson has referred to as the “systematic imperative of making do.”

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Makhulu, A-M

Cited Editors

  • Makhulu, A-MB; Buggenhagen, BA; Jackson, S

Published Date

  • 2010

Book Title

  • Hard Work, Hard Times: Global Volatility and African Subjectivities

Start / End Page

  • 28 - 47

Published By

International Standard Book Number 13 (ISBN-13)

  • 9780520098749