Work, development and refusal in urban Ethiopia

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Marxist autonomists and postwork theorists argue that work ought to be refused. Refusing work, they say, is the first step toward breaking the moral nexus between work, entitlement, and citizenship that constrains people from imagining progressive political projects. In this theorization, the refusal of work is a strategy for revolution. But ethnographic research shows us that acts of refusal can also take place outside the conjunctures of revolutionary change. They can be ordinary, individual, and often invisible. In urban Ethiopia, acts of refusal occurred during an economic boom, when work seemed as if it might have delivered on its promise of collective and individual empowerment. In these circumstances, refusal was less about the possibilities of a revolution and more about the terms of poor people's adverse incorporation through work. Acts of refusal consisted of workers’ individual and ordinary attempts to recapture some ownership over their lives in a moment when work both integrated and marginalized workers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-412
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Ethnologist
Issue number3
Early online date20 Jul 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Jul 2022


  • Ethiopia
  • development
  • inclusion
  • refusal
  • work


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