SOAS University of London

Department of Development Studies

The Politics of the 'Surplus Population' Question in Southern Africa

Bridget O’Laughlin

Date: 5 December 2017Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 5 December 2017Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: DLT

Type of Event: Seminar

The ‘surplus population’ question has made the (academic) left nervous about the limitations of ‘productivist’ Marxist class politics. Some wish to jump directly towards the end of work; others favour redistributive struggles to achieve Polyanian decommodification and social re-imbedding. This talk uses rural unemployment and underemployment in southern Africa as a case for developing four propositions concerning the limits of redistributive struggles: 1) both the separation between labour and labour power and the existence of relative ‘surplus population’ have been shaped by class and gender struggles; 2) the outcomes of these struggles have been variable over time and space and will continue to be so (neoliberalism is not the end of history); 3) current outcomes include extreme economic inequalities of class, gender and race not just in the distribution of wealth but in ways of working (in both commodified and non-commodified domains); 4) revolutionary strategies must challenge these inequalities in the world of work directly in class politics, not depend on the suasive power of political ‘assemblages’ to convince capital of its redistributive responsibilities.

Bridget O’Laughlin worked at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo from 1979 to 1992, first in the Centro de Estudos Africanos (CEA) and then in the Faculty of Economics. Prior to that, she taught anthropology at Stanford University and subsequently she taught development studies at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS) from which she is now retired. She has written extensively on the agrarian question in southern Africa. Her current research is on health, specifically on the production of affliction in rural southern Africa. She is one of the editors of the Journal of Agrarian Change.

Organiser: Feyzi Ismail

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