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St Catharine's Political Economy Seminar Series: Kate Meagher

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Speaker Kate Meagher is an Associate Professor in Development Studies at the Department of International Development, London School of Economics. She has a D.Phil in Sociology from Oxford, and lectured in rural sociology at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria from 1991-1997. She has engaged in extensive theoretical and field research on various aspects of African informal economies, with a particular focus on Nigeria, and has published widely on cross-border trade and regional integration, rural and urban informal activities, non-state security groups, and informal economic governance in Africa. Her research interests include informal institutions and social networks, inclusive economies, the comparative study of informal economies within and beyond Africa, religion and economic informality, hybrid governance, youth unemployment and the politics of informality. She is the author of Identity Economics: Social Networks and the Informal Economy in Nigeria (James Currey, 2010) and is currently involved in research on religious conflict and informal enterprise in northern Nigeria.

Talk Overview: Kate Meagher will discuss the proposition that rising poverty, inequality and expanding informal economies across much of Africa have raised concerns about the social and political risks of entrenched austerity policies. An earlier emphasis on rolling back the state has been replaced by a concern to rebuild the social contract between state and society by taxing large informal economies to fund basic social services. This paper challenges the notion that taxing the informal economy provides a mechanism for rebuilding the social contract in contemporary African countries. It highlights important weaknesses in the taxation and informality literature, relating to a tendency to gloss over historical differences in the role of taxation in state formation, and adherence to a fiscally essentialist and undifferentiated notion of the informal economy. Drawing on fieldwork in northern Nigeria, the paper considers how taxation of informal activities affects inter-group and state-society relations in a context of socially divided societies with high levels of poverty. The research focuses on a range of common informal activities, including motorcycle taxis, tyre traders, pepper soup producers, butchers and tailors, with a focus on experiences of and attitudes to taxation, its implications for livelihoods and social solidarity, and the effect of taxation on relations with the state. Drawing attention to key social divisions within the informal economy, the paper focuses on how indigeneity, religion and gender affect the ability of taxation to strengthen public accountability, and highlights the potential for taxation of the informal economy to exacerbate social tensions within poor and divided societies.

This talk is part of the St Catharine's Political Economy Seminar Series series.

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