As Wages Wane: Prefiguring and Resisting Post-Wage Worlds

Henry, Jacob
Mostafanezhad, Mary
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This dissertation outlines a vision for the ‘future of work’ which accounts for the increasing predominance of wageless life. It takes on two objectives: firstly, it introduces a new conceptual vocabulary to re-tool marxist political economic analysis for wageless times; and secondly, it reassesses the concept of ‘development’ to dislodge its modernization roots and foreground the importance of building intentionally post-wage worlds. This dissertation draws on eighteen months of qualitative field research (2019-2021) which deployed semi-structured interviews, structured interviews, and participant observation in the northern Namibian region of Owambo—an archetypical post-wage space. The first three chapters establish a new conceptual vocabulary to better understand the political economies of wagelessness. I first review how nostalgia for a waged era and the proselytization of modernization-style development have shaped wage-based societies across the globe. However, in an era of financialized capitalism, many of these spaces have been expelled from wage relations, resulting in the explosion of surplus populations and surplus spaces. One specific kind of emergent surplus geography is the post-wage space: these are spaces where wages used to dominate personal economies but now do not. In such spaces, cultural proletarianization—a widespread social pursuit of wages--lingers long after the material elements of a proletariat have vanished. As wagelessness continues to affect populations around the globe, understanding how these empirical post-wage spaces transition into intentionally post-wage societies—where survival does not depend on entering into wage relations—is of the utmost importance to reimagining development for contemporary times. The subsequent three chapters examine the prefigurations toward and resistance to the building of intentionally post-wage spaces. Unemployed youth adopting a ‘musician’ identity and traveling vendors selling their goods at pension distribution points both prefigure an intentionally post-wage society. The youth adopt the unalienated identity marker of ‘musician’ in lieu of waged identities and the vendors demonstrate how a post-wage marketplace can function without exploitation. However, many interests both locally and abroad seek to thwart the development of intentionally post-wage worlds. The village schoolhouse, for example, is a site of curricular geopolitics which continue to promote wage fables in post-wage space. The school is a reproductive space of hidden curriculum that teaches learners to believe in the promises of wages, while falling short of preparing them to actualize their waged hopes. Young people in post-wage space largely believe these hegemonic narratives; however, when faced with structural unemployment, they sometimes begin to withdraw the consent so important for hegemonies to perpetuate. I conclude by advocating for universal, unconditional cash transfers—sometimes called basic income grants—as the best bridging policy to begin the process of building intentionally post-wage worlds in Namibia and beyond.  
Geography, African studies, Sociology, alternative futures, development geographies, Namibia, post-wage space, surplus populations
223 pages
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