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Invisible Workers: African Women and the Problem of the Self- Employed in Labour History

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Applying Marxist categories to Africa has always posed problems most particularly when dealing with the self-employed. Most sub-Saharan countries have populations who are mostly self-employed in various capacities, and yet the focus of most African labor history has been on wage earners, following the traditional Marxist perspective regarding the emergence of a proletariat. Not coincidentally, such a focus has also eliminated from consideration the class position of most women and most agricultural laborers. Petty commodity production tends to be overlooked or regarded as transient, and yet it has been growing at a rapid rate. This paper attempts a theoretical reformulation to modify Marxist theory into a Marxian approach which accounts for the impact of the world capitalist economy on the masses of the African population. It is heavily influenced by socialist feminist analyses which view the household as a power structure allocating labor and resources, and by studies of small African entepreneurs and the social impact of development projects.

Affiliations: 1: Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, U.S.A.


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