Working paper number: 473

Author(s): John Spyropoulos
Unit: CSSR


This paper examines and accounts for the effects of irregular employment and low and volatile wage earnings on a group of individual young adults’ experience of their domestic economy. The cohort of young adults who participated in this case study are of mixed gender, aged 25 to 35, and live in Khayelitsha, which is a mainly poor, Black African residential area of Cape Town. This domestic moral economy (DME), as a social matrix of monetary exchanges presents a matrix of positive relations, of obligation, responsibility and care. The same household presents a situation of never-ending demand on earnings, of frustration at never having enough for oneself and, at times, of subordination to parental or sibling interests. For the individual young adults, the household operates as a site of mutuality, supporting household members with their aspirations to financial stability and a better life but, paradoxically, also limiting their means to fulfil the very aspirations for economic progress and social status, which they share with the household. This paper offers as its contribution to the economic anthropology literature an understanding of the effects and responses to the complex embeddedness of a labour market with high prevalence of low wage temporary employment in the DME of households at or near the poverty line. Theoretically, the paper argues that competing explanatory frameworks of sharing and possessive individualism and socially interested mutuality combine in a dynamic DME characterised by depletion and emotional stress. This DME constitutes the field of the real, substantivist economy of poor households.

 Publication file: WP473Spyropoulos.pdf