TRANSCENDING THE ECONOMIC

Maxim Bolt
2014 Africa - Journal of the International African Institute  
Callebert usefully critiques a 'dual economy' approach to South Africa. This model, posited by scholars and politicians, casts a poor 'second' economy as separate and excluded from a capital-intensive, globally connected 'first' economy. Versions of this diagnosis imply particular solutions: either bringing the second economy into the first, or bringing people from one sector into the other by lowering wages. As Callebert shows, matters are more complicated. The employed are hardly secure. The
more » ... hardly secure. The interests of the formally employed and the 'underclass' are not as sharply opposed as may be imagined. Families contain people in different socio-economic positions, and the employed have to support large numbers of kin. Moreover, people and families combine strategies to make ends meet, straddling the supposed formal/informal divide. And formal jobs offer resources and opportunities for informal business. Callebert contends that all this complexityevident in South Africa's past and presentwas masked by an exceptionalist, teleological narrative of proletarianization. Foregrounding the interdependences within a single economy reveals the limitations of lowering wages to employ more people (since wages support other kin). And doing so enables proper historicization of the connections between livelihood strategies. Callebert's point is well made. His critique of calls to expand the ranks of the working poor is convincing. Here, I engage not so much with his overall point as with his underlying conceptual framework. The article interrogates the formal/informal nexus. As it shows, the formal and the informal are tightly intertwined, in South Africa and elsewhere. So much so that, as Callebert notes, the very distinction can quickly become problematic. Yet the formal/informal distinction appears here in rather abstract, even universalist, termsdespite Callebert's sensitivity to the historical contingencies of people's livelihoods. The reason is that he limits the analysis to resource distribution, and to ways of making ends meet. 'The economy' itself is presented as a self-evident entity. 'Formality' and 'informality' then appear as 'sectors', however entangled. Waged employment has always intersected with other areas of life in more complex ways than can be captured by material distribution. It is this complexity that shapes what 'formal employment' has meant in South MAXIM BOLT is Lecturer in Anthropology and African Studies in the Department of African Studies and Anthropology, University of Birmingham, and Research Associate at the Wits Institute of Social and Economic Research (WISER), University of the Witwatersrand. He is finalizing manuscripts for two monographs -'The Roots of Impermanence: settlement, transience, and farm labour on the Zimbabwean-South African border', and 'Money in Africa', a comparative collaboration with three historians.
doi:10.1017/s0001972013000594 fatcat:nwuwmx76hbexjjpkrjk5jsjvuy