The Non-Work Of The Unimportant: The shadow economy of Nubian women in displacement villages

  • Citation: Agha, Menna. “The Non-Work Of The Unimportant: The shadow economy of Nubian women in displacement villages.” Kohl: a Journal for Body and Gender Research Vol. 5 No. 2 (2019): pp. 104-117.
    • Topics:
    • Country and Regional Studies
    • Keywords:
    • Nubian women
    • displacement
    • labor
    • gender

In my search for spatial resistance in Nubian resettlement villages, I found a trend of spatial hacks located inside and around the household, and purposed to facilitate a shadow economy dominated by women and their small businesses. Despite the recognized importance of informal economies in Africa (Kinyanjui 2014), Nubian women and their society do not qualify their profitable labor as work, partly because of their domestic location and partly because of their roots in an indigenous culture that recognizes the emotional – an undervalued aspect in the formal economy. In this paper, I first present empirical evidence of the significant role these women, and occasionally men, play in the economic health of Nubians after going through the hardships of displacement, by sustaining households as well as preserving Nubian indigenous culture. Second, I highlight the role of these economic activities in expanding the use of dwelling units designed by the state and reforming the built environment. Third, I challenge the ontologies of “work” that have been forced on Nubians as part of their displacement, and discounted their indigenous ontologies of labour. I do so by examining the meaning of “work” as a drive for social and cultural capital. The materiality of displacement and dispossession in the case of Nubians women has occurred semantically: the claim of modernization came accompanied with cultural violence and the discounting of women’s labour in the gendered configuration of meaning. This article argues for a feminist onto-epistemology of work – one that recognizes emotion and its position as a capital that is generated and circulated via resources of care, trust, and sense of community.

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