Hilary Chart

Doctoral Candidate, Anthropology

Award Information

2011 IDRF Program

AnthropologyStanford University

Improvising Capitalism: Emergent and Contested Forms of Entrepreneurship in Urban Botswana

This 12-month ethnographic project explores the wide-ranging and highly contested claims about who is and isn’t a “real” business person in urban Botswana today, as well as the diverse forms of entrepreneurial practice that proliferate here. As the government’s extensive micro enterprise (ME) promotion programs further restrict their definition of “proper” business, men and women across social strata who undertake very different activities nevertheless eagerly describe themselves as business people. By starting from these claims, I draw attention to the powerful forms of being associated with business in Gaborone, and expand understanding of doing business to include not only economic activities, but all practices supporting such claims. I ask what meaning business-related claims carry, what practices accompany these claims, and what effects—social, spatial, and temporal—these claims and practices ultimately entail. I answer these questions by organizing my research around three sets of social actors—ME promoters, “promotees” and other entrepreneurs, and street vendors—all of whom “do business,” but in very different ways. I employ a mixed methodology that involves institutional ethnography in ME promotion offices; in-depth semi-structured interviews with promoters, entrepreneurs and street vendors; Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and socio-spatial mapping of outdoor commercial activity in designated regions of the city; and participant observation with street vendors. Ultimately, I suggest that emergent forms of entrepreneurial identity and practice have made “business” into a meaningful category that organizes social life, urban space, and the way time is spent in Botswana’s capital city today. My project aims to broaden understandings of capitalism by attending to its socially meaningful forms of identification and material practices (above and beyond evaluation of economic outcomes), and by recognizing alternative capitalisms in the Global South.