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Cornwall, Andrea (2007) 'Of choice, chance and contingency: ‘Career strategies’ and tactics for survival among Yoruba women traders.' Social Anthropology, 15 (1). pp. 27-46.

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Women's economic empowerment has come to play an increasingly prominent role in the policies of mainstream development agencies. This article draws on fieldwork amongst small‐scale traders in southwestern Nigeria to suggest that the capacity of traders to exercise ‘choice’ is more complex than development narratives suggest. Deploying de Certeau's (1984) distinction between strategies and tactics, the article argues that making clear‐cut, strategic choices is dependent on having the power to realise them: power that many women in this as in other settings, including those with considerable buying and spending power, are not in a position to fully exercise. Women's struggles for success and survival in this context, the article argues, are waged in domains where their positions as agents are relational, situational, and above all, provisional. As members of families, associations and hearth‐holds, their abilities to make active, purposive, choices are constantly reconfigured in relation to these others. ‘Empowerment’ may be defined by mainstream development agencies as a destination, but looking more closely at the experiences of poor women in this setting reveals journeys along pathways that may be pitted with obstacles, in which chance and contingency may play as much of a part as deliberate choice, and for which tactics are needed for survival as well as success. A central argument in this article, then, is for the need to factor contingency into representations of women's working lives in development discourse, which in turn calls for an approach that can accommodate the mediation of agency and the tensions between autonomy and connectedness that course through women's lives.

Item Type: Journal Article
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > Department of Development Studies
ISSN: 09640282
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2012 15:08

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