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Moving jobs, moving workers: examining the threats and opportunities of globalization for workers in Africa - ECAS 2013 session

Laura Mann and I have put together a session at ECAS 2013 on labour and globalisation in Africa. We have some great speakers and papers lined up. Take a look at the list below or head to the ECAS site for more detail on the session. Hope to see some of you at ECAS in Lisbon.

Moving jobs, moving workers: examining the threats and opportunities of globalization for workers in Africa

A fresh wave of globalization is trickling into production systems in Africa. The arrival of Chinese, Indian, Malaysian and Arabic investors on the continent has spurred new negotiations and configurations, especially within agriculture and industry. In response to interest from the East, Western governments and companies have moved from a position of hard-nose liberalization towards a more institutionally engaged approach to African economies, seeking strategic business partnerships and avenues for social enterprise. Meanwhile, business hubs in Egypt, Kenya and South Africa compete to attract Multinational Corporations (MNCs) and their service jobs onshore. In this session, we wish to examine how these ‘global’ reconfigurations impact workers and labour markets on the ground. How are changing arrangements in the international division of labour impacting African economies and political systems? How does the entrance of MNCs change the capacities of African businesses and workers to negotiate their contracts and conditions of work? How do movements of migrant labour across African borders change political alliances and fracture points both at home and in the recipient countries? This panel welcomes contributions from across Africa, looking at specific incidences of globalization and the position of workers and professionals. While some people have suggested that “African Lions” might be poised to have their day in the sun, this panel ultimately asks who will become lions and who will become antelopes as Africa attempts to re-negotiate its relationship with the international economy.


Papers and short abstracts:
The Trouble that Lurks Beneath: Globalization, African Informal Labour and the Employment Illusion
Kate Meagher (London School of Economics)

Optimistic images of the African Boom gloss over critical stresses of expanding informality and youth unemployment. This paper will consider the realities beneath the surface of labour market optimism, and the extent to which they are being eased or exacerbates by globalization.

An Export or an Import? the Transnationalisation of Labor Practices in Kenya’s Business Processing Outsourcing Sector.
Laura Mann (University of Oxford)
Mark Graham (University of Oxford)

Outsourcing was set to be Kenya’s next big export earner. Since the global recession, firms have struggled to get international work and have focused on domestic outsourcing. We explore how an idea aimed at boosting exports to the outside world became a discourse about modernizing the home economy.

Africa’s transnationally skilled labor: technology entrepreneurs in a globalized world
Seyram Avle (University of Michigan)

Case study of how transnational and skilled African professionals, specifically in the communication technology sector in Ghana, return to work in their homelands, and the implications for local work culture.

Powering Africa but Disempowering Workers? Fractured Class Politics in Africa’s Largest Electricity Supplier
Alexander Beresford (University of Leeds)

Based on fieldwork conducted with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in South Africa, this paper will analyse the impacts of neoliberal restructuring in Eskom and explore the broader significance of such changes for how we understand labour and employment in the post apartheid period and also the political role of the organized working class.

Capital’s 'Great Leap Downward’: Remaking Africa’s Informal Economies at the Bottom of the Pyramid
Catherine Dolan (University of Oxford)

The bottom of the pyramid (BoP) approach has gained currency as a tool of ‘inclusive’ development in sub-Saharan Africa. This paper examines how global firms remake Africa’s informal economies through market technologies that render the BoP visible, calculable, and profitable to capital.

Resilient labour: paternalism, difference and informality in a Swazi company town
Vito Laterza (University of Pretoria)

This paper explores the trajectories of continuity and change in labour-management relations in a Swazi company town managed by white Christian entrepreneurs. Despite recent changes in investment patterns, pre-existing labour practices continue to play a major role in the human economy of Swaziland.

The Roots of Impermanence: Settlement, Transience and Farm Labour on the Zimbabwean-South African Border
Maxim Bolt (University of Birmingham)
The Zimbabwean-South African border is a place of transience and fragmentation. Many migrants join farm workforces, shaped by the ‘flexible’ capital and crop flows of export agriculture. But despite this apparent ephemerality, workforces incorporate and root people, offering provisional permanence.
New paper - "Thai Silk dot Com: Authenticity, Altruism, Modernity and Markets in the Thai Silk Industry"

I’ve just had a paper accepted to Globalizations: 

Graham, M. (2013) Thai Silk dot Com: Authenticity, Altruism, Modernity and Markets in the Thai Silk Industry. Globalizations 10(2).

The abstract is below and you can download a pre-publication version here.

The production of silk occupies a unique place in Thai cultural and economic practices. However, the practice is rarely passed on to the younger generation and is widely considered to be a dying craft. In response, influential organizations have proposed use of the internet as a way to reinvigorate the industry and attract new customers. This paper looks at the discourses used to sell silk and the ways that sellers are either framing Thai silk as a traditional craft in need of saving or as an enterprise that efficiently engage with the commercial needs of the global economy. The paper reviews the range of, often problematic, emotions, images and associations used to sell a dying craft. Ultimately, it argues that, in contrast to many of the theorized effects of the internet, it seems to be neither encouraging a mass homogenization or pushing sellers to effectively integrate themselves into global markets.

And a few random pictures from my fieldwork in Thailand: 







New paper published: "Perish or Globalize"

The latest issue of ACME: Journal of Critical Geographies contains a piece that I wrote about the Internet in the Thai silk industry.


The title, abstract, and a link to the piece are below:

“Perish or Globalize:” Network Integration and the Reproduction and Replacement of Weaving Traditions in the Thai Silk Industry 

The practice of handmade silk weaving has disappeared from much of the world, but continues to be practiced by thousands of people in Northeastern Thailand. However, as the Thai economy becomes increasingly embedded into global flows and networks of commodities, capital and culture, there are worries that silk weaving as a practice will either cease to be reproduced or will have to radically change in order to service the global market. This paper, based on in-depth interviews and surveys with sellers of silk, examines this dilemma faced by the industry. It finds that the means through which economic information is codified and transmitted over space and the tastes of non-local markets are ultimately resulting in changes to production practices throughout the country. Despite the fact that the internet is enabling trade and thereby allowing production practices to continue, fears are being realized about traditional practices being replaced as producers become ever more integrated into global networks. 

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And a few more photos that I took during fieldwork in Isaan: