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2 - Urban microcosms: Defining work at the margins of the city

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 July 2018

Luisa Enria
Affiliation:
University of Bath
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Summary

In her celebrated 2009 lecture, the Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warned her audience of the ‘danger of a single story’. ‘Show a people as one thing, as only one thing, over and over again and that is what they become’, she noted. This chapter is about the stories told about employment and unemployment in Sierra Leone's post-war moment. These stories and the reasons they are told show how different forms of economic activity are valued. These valuations are a first step towards understanding how experiences of work shape young people's social identities and relations.

The chapter begins by discussing how and why unemployment has been securitised in Sierra Leone. It outlines the ways in which policy-makers have woven a narrative about the dangers of unemployment that is specific to the circumstances of post-war Sierra Leone, showing how international shifts in thinking about post-war reconstruction merged with local interpretations of the war to influence the policies’ content in the country. It also considers why these accounts emerge from interactions between different sets of actors involved in policy-making and implementation and through the convergence of a variety of different motivations and interests. Through these interactions, specific definitions and assumptions emerge about who the unemployed are and what dangers they pose to the reconstruction process. The chapter then goes on to compare and contrast this official story with the stories of everyday survival that exist in Sierra Leone's capital, offering portraits of young people's varied lived experiences in four different urban microcosms as they engage with the realities of the post-war economy. By introducing the protagonists of this research, and offering an insight into the lives of motorbike riders, street traders, commission chasers and ‘idle women’, it aims to show the multiplicity of economic activity amongst those who do not fall within the sphere of formal employment. Furthermore, the chapter examines how young people themselves understand and interpret their labour market positions and experiences of work in the city. Descriptions of marginal livelihoods are thus complemented by a discussion of what work means, how notions of employment are negotiated in a quest for economic inclusion and the ways in which these understandings frame young people's assessments of their current situation vis-à-vis their future aspirations.

Type
Chapter
Information
The Politics of Work in a Post-Conflict State
Youth, Labour & Violence In Sierra Leone
, pp. 79 - 112
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2018

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