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Working it out: Labour geographies of the poor in Soweto, South Africa


  • Richard Grant


Local economic development (LED) research and policy grapple with the informal economy and township transformation. While most current thinking centres on firms, this paper argues that non-firm worlds of work and their spatiality are not adequately understood. Representations of the places where poor people work remain abstract and incomplete. The paper reports on a survey of 320 low-income Sowetan residents and in-depth interviews with 20 workers about their work roles in the urban space economy. The findings, which show poor workers engaging with diverse sectors and locations in complex ways, challenge the dominant spatial narratives about isolated poor residential areas. Poor workers deliberately create their own social capital in work realms. This being the case, a more finely tuned conceptualisation of these workers and their roles in urban space is essential to sharpen LED discussions so that policies can be based more on real rather than imagined spatiality.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard Grant, 2010. "Working it out: Labour geographies of the poor in Soweto, South Africa," Development Southern Africa, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 27(4), pages 595-612.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:deveza:v:27:y:2010:i:4:p:595-612
    DOI: 10.1080/0376835X.2010.508595

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