[URBANTH-L] CFP: Informalizing Economies and New Organising Strategies in Africa

Angela Jancius acjancius at ysu.edu
Fri Apr 28 12:30:25 EDT 2006

From: Karen Tranberg Hansen <kth462 at northwestern.edu>


to a conference on


Nordic Africa Institute, Sweden, 20-22 April 2007

Informal economies in Africa have been experiencing a rapid expansion in the 
last few decades. This trend is taking place in the context of neoliberal 
models of development, whereby international financial institutions advocate 
policies of privatization, economic liberalisation and deregulation. These 
policies have had far-reaching consequences. Growing numbers of redundant 
workers and declining regulated wage work opportunities have resulted in new 
floods of entrants into the informal economy. In this deregulating economic 
environment, existing firms increasingly make use of casual labour and/or 
rely on a myriad of small-scale informal operators, a trend that is 
exceedingly evident in urban areas. Self-employment and "unregulated" forms 
of employment are today widespread ways of earning a living. At the same 
time, informal economies have become both increasingly enmeshed in 
international commodity circuits and more exposed to global market forces. 
Unsurprisingly, the informal economy has become a sphere of accumulation for 
larger firms whereas conditions and incomes have often deteriorated for 
vulnerable groups that depend on the informal economy for survival. In 
addition to the influence of global forces, governments often have a 
negative, or at best ambivalent, attitude towards poor self-employed people. 
In many places they adopt restrictive and violent measures such as 
harassment and eviction. At the most, they regard these groups as 'vote 
banks', in a context of multi-party politics. Given these various economic 
and political pressures, it is not surprising that the informal economy is a 
highly politicised field.

The conference will focus on the collectively organised responses of popular 
groups to drastically changed conditions for earning a living in Africa. In 
particular, the aim is to concentrate on attempts to organise informal 
workers and to defend their interests. The term 'informal workers' is to be 
interpreted here in its widest sense, to include both casual labour and 
self-employed people. Some of the key issues to be debated are:

- What organising strategies are emerging around the interests of informal 
workers? Here, a range of different strategies will be explored. These 
include both collective initiatives emerging from within the informal 
economy and the responses of conventional workers' organisations (i.e. trade 
unions) to the challenges posed by the extensive informalisation of the 
- What are the agendas of these civic groups and whom do they try to 
influence? What kind of relations do they entertain with the powerful actors 
that influence the conditions in which they live and work (such as 
international financial institutions, private companies, the national and 
local state)? What alternative practices and discourses, if any, are these 
civic groups promoting?
- What new alliances and constellations are emerging in this changing 
landscape of organised popular initiatives?
- Where is an oppositional politics taking place - at the local/national 
level and/or at the international level?

Papers that address the following themes are particularly welcome:

Associations emerging from within the informal economy.
Here, the aim is to explore those collective initiatives that go beyond a 
purely economic orientation and that attempt to defend the interests of 
informal workers in the public sphere. Indeed, there is a proliferation of 
associations and interest groups claiming to represent informal workers. 
This raises a number of questions. What are the origins of their leadership 
and what benefits do 'members' derive? What do these groups strive for and 
through what means? Who are their targets and who are their allies? Equally 
important is the internal distribution of power and resources within such 
groups as the leaderships of some associations mediate access to important 
livelihood resources and enjoy considerable authority. Issues of 
inclusion/exclusion and representation are of relevance here, as well as the 
eventual challenges by dissatisfied 'members' or marginalised people.

Organising across the formal-informal divide.
Job losses and extensive informalisation have forced some trade unions to 
revise their relations with informal workers and to devise new strategies 
that attempt to reach workers in the informal economy. What is the nature of 
this relationship in different places? What are the terms of cooperation, if 
any? How are the different (often seen as opposing) interests involved 
reconciled or negotiated? What accounts for successful experiments and 

Transnational organising.
Local groups of informal workers are increasingly coalescing into 
international networks. Thus African informal workers should be seen as 
global actors, rather than as passive victims of 'globalisation' processes. 
What are the possibilities and constraints facing these international 
networks? How do participating groups negotiate different interests, agendas 
and ideologies? What asymmetries are emerging within these networks? How 
well are the interests of local constituencies represented? How do 
international networks of informal workers and the international trade union 
movement relate to each other? And what difference does international 
organising make for popular influence at the local/national scale?

Gender dynamics.
What are the gender dynamics at work in the various organising strategies 
presented above? Women constitute a significant share of informal workers. 
Frequently, they are the main constituency of male-led groups mobilising 
people in the informal economy. Alternatively, women informal workers create 
their own groups, who eventually engage in relations with various other 
actors (such as the state, political parties, trade unions etc). Relations 
with trade unions and with other groups across borders are potentially 
fields of tension and struggle around gender differences. In what ways do 
women informal workers try to improve their positions and gain visibility, 
within and beyond their organisations? What are the trade-offs involved?

Organising around livelihood issues often cuts across other axes of affinity 
and difference that may be central for positions, relations and processes 
presented above. Authors are therefore encouraged to address relations based 
on age and religious or ethnic belonging whenever these are of relevance.

The conference hopes to explore geographical variations in the extent and 
traditions of organising, in the strategies adopted, in the nature of the 
evolving relations between trade unions and informal workers, and in the 
degree of participation in transnational movements. Longitudinal analyses 
could potentially bring insights into temporal variations.

The aim of the conference is to attract researchers from different 
disciplines as well as a number of civil society actors involved in 
organising of informal workers in Africa.

Papers and schedule
Abstracts (not more than 500 words) of papers to be presented must be sent 
by mail, e-mail or fax not later than 23 June 2006 to Ilda Lindell or Anna 
Eriksson-Trenter, using the contact details below. Abstracts must be written 
in English, French or Portuguese and include a title, the author's name and 
institutional affiliation. Authors of accepted abstracts will be noti ed by 
airmail and e-mail by the end of August. Completed papers should be received 
no later than 28 February 2007.
The Nordic Africa Institute, possibly in cooperation with an international 
publishing house, will seek to publish a selection of revised papers.

Venue and financial arrangements
The conference will take place in Uppsala, Sweden. The organizers will 
provide free board and lodging for all paper presenters. No per diems will 
be paid. Participants are encouraged to finance their own travel costs but 
if unable to do so, they may apply to the Nordic Africa Institute for return 
airfare (economy fare) from their place of residence to Uppsala.

Contact details
Ilda Lourenço-Lindell
Research Fellow
The Nordic Africa Institute
P.O. Box 1703
SE-751 47 Uppsala, Sweden
Tel.: +46-18 56 22 02 (direct)
Fax: +46-18 56 22 90
E-Mail: Ilda.Lindell at nai.uu.se

Anna Eriksson-Trenter
The Nordic Africa Institute
P.O. Box 1703
SE-751 47 Uppsala, Sweden
Tel.: +46-18 56 22 51 (direct)
Fax: +46-18 56 22 90
E-Mail: anna.eriksson-trenter at nai.uu.se 

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