Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 July 2018
As okadas were banned from the centre of Freetown, clusters of young riders shared their consternation at the Up Gun parking ground. ‘They don't even see us as people’, some riders asserted in reference to the authorities behind Operation WID. These assertions are a stark reflection of the social implications of marginal work, that is, of its ability to shape young people's perceptions of themselves and their position in society. This chapter explores how experiences of the post-war labour market, and in particular of exclusion from the jobs young people aspire to influence their social identities and relations. It shows how engaging in precarious, low-income and devalued work has meaning that extends beyond the pecuniary dimension of unemployment.
Marginal work in the four microcosms shaped young people's social world in several ways. Existing on the margins of acceptable employment moulded young people's generational identities: their ascription to the category of youth, with its corollary of social immaturity or of being socially ‘small’, was seen as a direct consequence of their economic exclusion. The microcosms however set the stage for creatively engaging with one's marginality through distinctive youth sociality. Being socially ‘small’ also had gendered connotations, as barriers to accessing employment influenced the construction of gender identities and relations between men and women. Underpinning these identities, furthermore, was the crucial role played by social networks and relations of reciprocity in understandings of labour market exclusion. Exclusion from redistributive networks with powerful big people (sababu) determined young people's perceptions of themselves in relation to social hierarchies defined by socio-economic status. Critiques of these exclusive networks reflected deeper concerns surrounding the moral economy of work and expectations of redistribution. At the same time, these critiques were paralleled by attempts to be included in ‘big men’ or ‘big women’ networks in order to navigate one's life out of marginality. Finally, marginal work gave rise to occupational identities, albeit fragile ones in the context of competition for personal connections.