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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 January 2012


This article examines the interplay of agency, culture and context in order to consider the social embeddedness of money and trade at the margins of South Africa's economy. Focusing on small-scale, survivalist informal enterprise operators, it draws on socio-cultural analysis to explore the social dynamics involved in generating and managing wealth. After describing the informal sector in South Africa, the article elucidates the relationship between money and economic informality. First, diverse objectives, typically irreducible to the maximization of profit, animate those in the informal sector and challenge meta-narratives of a ‘great transformation’ towards socially disembedded and depersonalized economic relationships. Second, regimes of economic governance, both state-led and informal, shape the terrain on which informal economic activity occurs in complex and constitutive ways. Third, local idioms and practices of trading, managing money and negotiating social claims similarly configure economic activities. Fourth, and finally, encroaching and often inexorable processes of formalization differentially influence those in the informal sector. The analysis draws on these findings to recapitulate both the ubiquity and centrality of the sociality at the heart of economy, and to examine the particular forms they take in South Africa's informal economy.


Cet article examine l'interaction de la culture, de l'action et du contexte pour étudier l'enchâssement social de l'argent et du commerce à la marge de l’économie sud-africaine. À travers le cas des entrepreneurs informels menant des activités de survie à petite échelle, il explore à partir d'une analyse socioculturelle la dynamique sociale qui intervient dans la génération et la gestion de patrimoine. Après avoir décrit le secteur informel en Afrique du Sud, l'article explique la relation entre l'argent et l'informalité économique. Premièrement, des objectifs divers, qui ne peuvent généralement pas se réduire à la maximisation du profit, animent les acteurs du secteur informel et remettent en question les métarécits d'une « grande transformation » vers des relations économiques socialement désenchâssées et personnalisées. Deuxièmement, des régimes de gouvernance économique (dirigés par l’État et informels) façonnent le terrain sur lequel survient l'activité économique informelle de manière complexe et constitutive multiple. Troisièmement, les idiomes locaux et les pratiques de commerce, de gestion d'argent et de négociation des revendications sociales configurent de la même façon les activités économiques. Enfin quatrièmement, des processus de formalisation envahissants et souvent inexorables influencent différentiellement ceux du secteur informel. L'analyse s'appuie sur ces conclusions pour récapituler à la fois l'ubiquité et la centralité de la socialité au cœur de l’économie, et pour examiner les formes particulières qu'elles prennent dans l’économie informelle en Afrique du Sud.

Research Article
Copyright © International African Institute 2012

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