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Popular economies and citizen expectations in South Africa


This research explores the links between economic change and citizens' expectations in South Africa. The context is one in which expectations of state welfarism co-exist with new ideas of enterprise, economic independence and privatization, and in which efforts have been made to replace South Africa’s earlier “dual economy” with a single set of financial arrangements through which credit, mortgages and other transactions might proceed. Research will explore the effects upon household economic practices of the attempted formalisation of investment, credit, enterprise insurance, and gambling, seeking to understand whether these efforts have succeeded in creating uniformity or whether deepening inequality has prompted new divisions. It will also explore local responses to these economic changes, from Communist Party campaigns insisting on the political rights of consumers, through activities of Citizens' Advice Bureaux, to religious movements and organisations which decry indebtedness and alienation. Key areas of investigation are:

(a) an analysis of entrepreneurial activities in the formerly racialised spaces of townships and homelands;
(b) an investigation of spending, investing and getting into debt;
(c) an analysis of risk, unpredictability and wager;
(d) an assessment of upward mobility and how this has been prompted by formalisation and facilitated or been undermined by interpersonal ties.

List of outputs|

Participants and Projects

London School of Economics

Please follow this link| for full biographical details of project members.

Deborah James|, Professor of Anthropology
"Debt, vulnerability and social mobility: popular political economies"

Lizzy Hull, Researcher
"Government' or market? Wealth, redistribution and social mobility in northern KwaZulu-Natal"

Fraser McNeill, Researcher
"Entrepreneurs in Venda between state and market"

Ilana van Wyk, Researcher
"Risk, debt and popular economy: playing the National Lottery in Durban"

University of Leiden

Erik Baehre, Affiliate Researcher/Lecturer in Anthropology, Leiden University
“Risk, insurance arrangements, and inequality”

Rhodes University

Detlev Krige, Affiliate Researcher/Lecturer in Anthropology, Rhodes University
“The Political Economy of Entrepreneurship, Welfarism, and Millenarian Pyramid-Schemes among Afrikaners on the West Rand and Africans in Soweto"

University of the Western Cape

David Neves, Affiliate Researcher/Researcher, University of the Western Cape
“Economic agency and informal self-employment”

For further information please contact Professor Deborah James (d.a.james@lse.ac.uk|).


Economic and Social Research Council


meeting of womens savings club

  Meeting of women's saving club

  womens savings club members with equipment





  Women's savings club with equipment