IDS Annual Lecture with James Ferguson

Tuesday 5 July 2016 17:00 to 18:30
Jubilee Lecture Theatre, University of Sussex

Professor James Ferguson from Stanford University will deliver the inaugural IDS Annual Lecture titled 'Not Working: Rethinking Production and Distribution in the Jobless City'. It is a public lecture and all are welcome to attend.

Not Working: Rethinking Production and Distribution in the Jobless City

Precarious, unemployed, informal, "lumpen" - it is clear that the contemporary global city is full of people who are “not working" (at least not in that much-mythologized stable, waged employment that has long been taken to constitute a "proper job"). But the vast and expanding cities of the global South are also the sites of grand narratives purporting to explain the lives that unfold within them, and these narratives, too, are not working.

This paper considers the failings of two of the most important such narratives - one (which I call "transition") premised on an epochal movement from agriculture to industry, and the other (which I call "catastrophe") based on an apocalyptic story of destruction, impoverishment, and neoliberal predation. In place of such narratives, it is suggested that we need new analytical categories, new sorts of empirical research, and new political strategies.

This might enable us to recognise the decreasing place of productive (and especially waged) labour in urban livelihoods while still appreciating and attending to the emergence of other (and often successful) livelihood strategies, many of which are rooted less in production than in distribution.

About the Speaker

James Ferguson is the Susan S. and William H. Hindle Professor in the School of Humanities and Sciences, and Professor in the Department of Anthropology. His research has focused on southern Africa (especially Lesotho, Zambia, South Africa, and Namibia), and has engaged a broad range of theoretical and ethnographic issues.

These include the politics of “development”, rural-urban migration, changing topographies of property and wealth, constructions of space and place, urban culture in mining towns, experiences of modernity, the spatialization of states, the place of “Africa” in a real and imagined world, and the theory and politics of ethnography. Running through much of this work is a concern with how discourses organized around concepts such as “development” and “modernity” intersect the lives of ordinary people.

Professor Ferguson's most recent work has explored the surprising creation and/or expansion (both in southern Africa and across the global South) of social welfare programs targeting the poor, anchored in schemes that directly transfer small amounts of cash to large numbers of low-income people. On this topic his latest book 'Give a Man a Fish: Reflections on the New Politics of Distribution' was recently published by Duke University Press.

Watch the video of the lecture


University of Sussex Brighton BN1 9RE