Rethinking labour in Africa, past and present

Lynn Schler, Louise Bethlehem, Galia Sabar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The study of labour in Africa has undergone important transformations over the last 20 years. Following a period of intense scrutiny from the 1950s to the 1980s, research on working classes, labour unions, capitalist expansion and proletarianisation in Africa experienced a decline that paralleled the political reality of the gradual marginalisation and disempowerment of the working classes and of organised labour more generally. Early approaches to the study of labour in Africa, heavily influenced by Marxist theory, underwent a process of self-examination and revision as poststructuralist and postcolonial critics exposed the Eurocentric biases underlying prevalent conceptualisations of labour-related research (see, for example, William Sewell Citation1993). The resulting retreat from universalist conceptualisations of class, work and productivity led researchers to eschew imposed notions of working-class consciousness and proletarianisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-298
Number of pages12
JournalAfrican Identities
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2009


  • SOUTH Africa


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