Urban Youth's Making of Social Infrastructures in a Context of Precariousness

Sunday, 10 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Hannah SCHILLING, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technische Universitaet Berlin, Germany
Much has been said about the individual management of precarious working conditions (i.e. De Soto, 1989; Paugam, 2000), stressing the danger for social cohesion (i.e. Bauman, 2008; Castel, 2008). The focus of my article lies instead on the social infrastructures that an urban context generates for young urbanites. I develop my argument on the basis of narrative interviews and participant observations with young urbanites, men and women, of working class families living in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire. The notion of social infrastructure (Simone, 2004) is used to describe how young urbanites make use of the social fabric of the city to create opportunities that generate resources to sustain their daily livelihood. This not only includes social ties (Hannerz, 1980), but also sociabilities that are more transient as stability in life gets rare, as well as policies shaping distribution mechanism, in form of categorical differentiations and moral orientations (Blokland et al., 2016). The analysis of practices of provisioning of Abidjanese working class youth allows me to explaining how (inter)national policies of social welfare and labor create gendered opportunities to use the resources of an urban context with a diversity of forms of economic activities. I show how the remainders of the institutionalized public employee and the respective gender arrangement promoted by an Ivorian Welfare State inform the way the youth develop alternative ways to provisioning themselves, and the way they draw upon the resources of informal economies. Hence I situate the making of social infrastructures in a global history of labor (Cooper, 1996; Eckert, 1999) and postcolonial realities (Boatca, 2015; Comaroff/Comaroff, 2005), with the ideals of youth transitions, work and gender roles attached to it. This case study finally contributes to a global youth sociology and labor studies that don't take the Global North as the center and starting point of analysis.