School of Social and Political Science

Hustling During the 'Hunger Virus': Temporalities and Terrains of the Hustle Economy in Mathare, Nairobi

10 March 2021
16:00 - 17:30


Online via Zoom


This paper has two aims:

First, I will present excerpts from a forthcoming publication (Africa 2021), which is part of a special issue on 'Harnessing the Hustle'. Based on longitudinal ethnographic research over the decade, I examine the temporalities and terrains of the home-grown hustle economy of Mathare, one of the oldest and largest informal settlements in Nairobi. It builds on my previous work mobilizing the notion of ‘hustle’ to ground the narratives of struggle, opportunity and place-making expressed by youth whose livelihood strategies have centred around neighbourhood-based informal waste labour in order to assert claims to their local environment. Drawing on three sets of ethnographic portraits, I reflect on how hustling connects to and evolves with particular generational and gendered identities, revealing the shifting demands on ‘older’ versus ‘younger’ youth. The paper sheds light on local logics of wealth redistribution among youth who belong to the same neighbourhood but whose claims to particular resources shift over time. It demonstrates how hustling in Mathare sits at the nexus of agentive economic, environmental, political and social struggles, as youth on the urban periphery manage waste in their neighbourhoods to negotiate their place but also their time in the city. 

Second, I draw on weekly WhatsApp message exchanges with key interlocutors during the pandemic, to reflect on the implications of Covid-19 on everyday hustling in Mathare since April 2020, where fears of the Coronavirus are surpassed by fears of the 'hunger virus' in the face of strict government lockdown measures and the crackdown on street oriented informal economies that have to date made the city move. These reflections also raise questions about the terrains and temporalities of ethnographic fieldwork itself in this Covid-era.

Key speakers

  • Tatiana Thieme (UCL)