Negotiated Precarity in the Global South: A Case Study of Migration and Domestic Work in South Africa

Zaheera Jinnah (2020). ‘Negotiated Precarity in the Global South: A Case Study of Migration and Domestic Work in South Africa‘, Studies in Social Justice, 2020(14), 210-227, DOI: 10.26522/ssj.v2020i14.1971.

This article explores precarity as a conceptual framework to understand the intersection of migration and low-waged work in the global south. Using a case study of cross-border migrant domestic workers in South Africa, I discuss current debates on framing and understanding precarity, especially in the global south, and test its use as a conceptual framework to understand the everyday lived experiences and strategies of a group that face multiple forms of exclusion and vulnerability. I argue that a form of negotiated precarity, defined as transactions which provide opportunities for survival but also render people vulnerable, can be a useful way to make sense of questions around (il)legality and (in)formality in the context of poorly protected work, insecure citizenship and social exclusion. Precarity as a negotiated strategy shows the ways in which people interact with systems and institutions and foregrounds their agency. But it also illustrates that the negative outcomes inherent in more traditional notions of precarity, expressed in physical and economic vulnerability, and discrimination in employment relations, mostly hurt the poor. This suggests the importance of an intersectional approach to understanding precarity in labour migration studies.

[The featured photograph ‘Truck Bed’ is the cover image for this special issue on Migration, Intersectionality and Social Justice. The photographer, Never Ndou, is a Zimbabwean farm worker in northern South Africa who took part in the participatory Border Farm Project in 2009-2010.]

About Zaheera Jinnah

Zaheera Jinnah has a PhD in anthropology and a background in development studies and social work. Her research interests are in labour migration, gender and diaspora studies. She is a research associate at the ACMS where she teaches, supervises graduate students, and engages in policy and academic research. Her recent publication is the co-edited book (Palgrave) ‘Gender and Mobility in Africa: Borders, Bodies and Boundaries'.