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Calculating care: working out ways through (economic) insecurity in a Ouagadougou market

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posted on 2023-06-09, 23:43 authored by Sarah-Jane Phelan
Drawing on 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork, this thesis traces the everyday practices of vendors at a neighbourhood market in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, as they calculated their way through uncertainty. As intensifying political and economic insecurity refracted into their businesses and moral worlds, traders had to reorient themselves to increasingly unknowable futures. The emotional and cognitive efforts of their calculative practices became heightened and more visible, illuminating what they cared about, and reflecting their changing scope of agency in exercising this care. This thesis responds to an urgent need to understand the work that people do to keep body and soul together in the absence of demand for their (paid) labour. There is a rich body of literature that considers how global configurations of resources and power depress valuations of labour across raced, gendered and geographical axes, resulting in a paradox of intensified work for those without access to stable, paid employment. However, the experiences and expertise of the vendors at Marché Collé illustrate a form of work that has been underexplored in academic work thus far. This thesis focuses on the emotional and cognitive practices through which people direct their labour and deploy their resources to meet needs and aspirations, and mitigate threats. I have called this labour ‘calculating care’, and I argue that the complexity and amount of this work a person has to do corresponds to the (under)valuation of their labour, and body, through socially constructed inequalities. Throughout this thesis, I illustrate what this work does, the expertise it requires, and the toll it takes.


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