ESR Project 15

Informal Sectors and Economic Security: Gendered Urban Everyday Life in African Borderlands

 Supervisors Paul Nugent (Edinburgh) and Heather Swanson (University of Aarhus)

Whereas African borderlands are often thought of as peripheral, many of Africa’s largest cities are located either on or close to borders – especially in the Great Lakes and West Africa. Hence urban livelihoods are very much bound up with border dynamics and are often gendered in quite specific ways. The concept of ‘informality’ has been used in relation both to cities and border regions, but its utility as a concept is open to question. What is constituted by the ‘formal’ is not always so clear and that which is deemed to be ‘informal’ is often embedded within notionally formal frameworks (e.g. financial institutions). This project aims, firstly, to probe the gendered nature of livelihoods in border areas that are simultaneously urban: some may be concerned with production (e.g. alcohol), others with consumption (work in drinking bars, prostitution) and distribution (cross-border trade and vending) and some with activities that straddle these categories. The thesis will, secondly, probe the concept of formality and consider alternative framings that might better depict the reality of urban everyday life. The thesis, which may be in the Great Lakes or West Africa, will contribute to urban, border and gender studies. The research, which will be based on a minimum of 12 months of fieldwork, will include a three month secondment with an association which deals with the lives of women in urban and border settings and has an advocacy role. This will probably be with Promundo in Rwanda.