University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Centre of African Studies Lent Seminar Series > ‘Women use our Strength in the House’; Savings Clubs and Social Mobility In South Africa

‘Women use our Strength in the House’; Savings Clubs and Social Mobility In South Africa

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This Talk is part of the Centre of African Studies Lent term Seminar Series: Gender in Africa

In settings of increased inequality, where rising prosperity for some spells penury for others, savings clubs enable new types of communality to be created – especially by women – which mediate, or are mediated by, new inequalities and dependencies. Changing gender dynamics and challenges to patriarchal authority, arising from apartheid-induced relocation and later the expansion of a somewhat gender-skewed state-grant system, now find expression in the relative autonomy enjoyed by some female civil servants and informal traders. More than simply ‘loose ends’ of apartheid’s homeland system, women’s savings clubs are being woven together into new fabrics of intensified solidarity. But not everyone can benefit equally from these sociable arrangements. Clubs occupy a point of intersection between two trends. One comprises modern roles and concerns associated with upward mobility in post-democratic South Africa. The other is evident in pockets of apparent informality and customary mutuality, where egalitarian sociability predominates. Setting out an arena linked to but discrete from that of capitalism, the clubs help members alternately accommodate and defy capitalism’s imperatives, while also fending off demands made by poorer relatives, neighbours, and those with too few resources to belong to clubs.

This talk is part of the Centre of African Studies Lent Seminar Series series.

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