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Third Workshop on Popular Economies in South Africa

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Local Economies


Wiser, 6th floor, Richard Ward Building, Wits University
14th- 15th September 2010

To view the workshop programme please click here| 

Keynote speech: Nic Dawes - Editor, Mail and Guardian
9 - 9.45


Session 1: Indebtedness in (south) Africa

Chair: David Neves; Discussant: Penny Hawkins
9.45 - 11.00



16 Money-go-round: personal economies of wealth, aspiration and indebtedness
|Author: Deborah James, LSE

17 Overview of consumer credit data in South Africa including data on the development of regulated debt counselling
Author: Marlene Heymans, Consumer Credit Consultant

18 Indebtedness: case studies from the National Debt Mediation Association
|Author: Magauta Mphahlele, CEO of NDMA

19 Cattle and cash. Monetarization and the politics of entrustment
Author: Andreas Dafinger, Central European University, Budapest

20 The meaning of pyramid schemes in the popular economies
|Author: Detlev Krige, University of Pretoria


Session 2: Financial services - formal and informal

Chair: Erik Baehre; Discussant: Louise Whittaker, Wits Business School
11.30 - 12.45

The meaning of pyramid schemes in the popular economies
Detlev Krige

The Pensions Industry
Krishen Sukdev

Responses of low-income consumers to financial services
Penny Hawkins


The Pensions Industry
Author: Krishen Sukdev

Responses of low-income consumers to financial services
Author: Penny Hawkins


Session 3: Enterprise and informality

Chair: Lizzy Hull; Discussant: Detlev Krige, University of Pretoria
2.00 - 3.00



21 Economic informality in South Africa: practice and policy
|Author: David Neves, PLAAS, UWC

22 Digging Graves and Singing Songs: Ethnographies of Survival in Venda
|Author: Fraser McNeill, LSE

23 Engaging in Small-Scale Enterprise in South Africa
|Author: Sam Masinga, Maputaland Mirror


Session 4: Risk and investment

Chair Fraser McNeill; Discussant: Stuart Theobald
3.30 - 5.00



24 Investment, risk and expectation in KwaZulu-Natal's rural economy
|Author: Lizzy Hull, LSE

25 The Janus Head of Insurances in South Africa
|Author: Erik Bahre, Leiden University

26 Playing to lose: South African Lottery players and the fragility of hope
Author: Ilana van Wyk

Closing remarks - Deborah James
5.00 - 5.30


South African householders' money-making, savings and consumption activities have recently become a focus of both interest and concern. Advertisers and marketers research the habits of their customers, while government departments and commissions investigate people's tendency to spend more than they earn, invest in pyramid schemes, become indebted, and engage in gambling. Meanwhile, reporters bemoan the way people allegedly 'misuse' government grants to fund such activities, or talk of scandals involving government tenders.

Many Africans prior to 1994, excluded from formal economic institutions, were forced to cope by any means possible. Subsequently, jobless growth, casualisation, outsourcing, and the informalisation of work have added to economic marginalisation. At the same time, considerable efforts have been made to enable full participation in the nation's economic life. There are attempts to address the problems of the unbanked, to create a 'single credit economy' by passing a National Credit Act, and to address the profligacy of gamblers by instigating special commissions. NGOs and advocacy organisations have sought to alleviate problems. Extensive research - undertaken or sponsored by banks, by Finmark Trust, and by specialist market researchers – has illuminated these processes.

Yet many of those connected to the mainstream as producers or consumers remain partially separated from the world of economic formality when it comes to finance, credit and the like. They are told that having bank accounts, becoming financially literate, and exercising better discipline is the way forward. Their problems are represented as matters of personal responsibility to be experienced in isolation, rather than as issues of broader citizenship.

These topics have been much researched, but

*    how do they interconnect?

*    how do small-scale enterprise, household spending, consumerism, investment and   indebtedness link together in the everyday lives of ordinary South Africans?

*     do people see themselves as isolated consumers/entrepreneurs or as community members with shared interests?

*     are people included within or excluded from the mainstream economic realm?

Investing, engaging in enterprise, gambling and getting into debt: popular economies and citizen expectations in South Africa is the title of a research project run from the Anthropology Dept at the London School of Economics, funded by UK's ESRC, and with collaboration from the Universities of Leiden and Pretoria and PLAAS, University of the Western Cape, which has explored these questions.

As anthropologists, we focus our field research on people's practices and beliefs, trying to show how these relate to their participation in larger contexts such as households, neighbourhoods, classes, social networks and communities defined by race, class, ethnicity, subculture and gender. We use methodologies of fieldwork and participant observation, and use actor-centred perspectives to gain insight into local realities. Because we tend not to speak to abstract concepts such as 'the national economy', it is often difficult to translate anthropological insights directly into policy recommendations. But this can also be the strength of anthropological approaches to economic life. We wish now to attempt a constructive dialogue with those in the worlds of market, policy and advocacy, and with academics from various disciplines engaged in similar research. We invite you to participate in a day-long workshop-style collaborative event held at Wiser on 14th-15th September. Our researchers will present their findings and listen to those of others – academics, advocacy or other researcher/practitioners - who have been working in the field. 

Please submit your abstract via our online form, available at the top of this page. Presentations should be around 20 minutes long, can be informal, and need not be in an academic format as conventionally understood.

Deborah James
Fraser McNeill
Ilana van Wyk
Elizabeth Hull

Erik Bahre

Detlev Krige
John Sharp

David Neves


Dissemination workshop held at Wits, Johannesburg

Deborah James and Stuart Theobald
Deborah James and Stuart Theobald


Workshop group
Workshop group