Laboring for “Development”: Unwaged Work in a Yam Traders’ Savings and Loan Association

Authors: Jacqueline Daigneault*, University of Minnesota - Minneapolis
Topics: Development
Keywords: labor, development, precarity, ethnography, West Africa
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Maryland A, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Togo’s market traders sell a variety of goods in the country’s weekly public marketplaces and these vendors, the majority of whom are women, face considerable precarity in their work given the vagaries of local agricultural production and instabilities in the national economy. Women market traders’ vulnerability has, in turn, long made them a group subject to development interventions by local and international NGOs. In recent years, savings and loan associations (SLA) have been enthusiastically embraced in Togo by development NGOs and women market traders alike to address this vulnerability. Yet while SLAs are promoted to reduce women’s economic precarity, these projects in turn become new sites of wageless labor that call into question the marginal material benefits that accrue to participants. I draw on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork with women traders in a large market town in northern Togo to demonstrate that while many women seek financial security and empowerment through SLAs, participation in these development projects at the same time introduces new forms of unwaged work to their lives. This work is both reproductive and psychic, as the SLA and its weekly meetings depend on a continual reinforcement of social ties, the disciplining of individual behaviors, and a negotiation of family obligations. Individual stories of empowerment and economic gain at the same time complicate this critical analysis of development. Nevertheless, development projects provide fruitful sites for thinking about wageless work in the contemporary Togolese economy, as well as the contradictions inherent in collective strategies to address economic precarity.

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