- Article Title: Disempowerment from Below: Informal Enterprise Networks and the Limits of Political Voice in Nigeria
- Title of Journal: Oxford Development Studies
- Vol #: 42
- Issue #: 2
Abstract: Decentralized governance has enjoyed limited success in promoting popular livelihoods and political voice among informal actors. Explanations have tended to focus on sources of disempowerment from above, where informal collective action is overwhelmed or sidelined by more powerful government or private-sector interests. This article will focus on the ways in which prolonged crisis and informality can also generate processes of disempowerment from below by disrupting and warping informal organizational dynamics. In addition to the divergent interests of more powerful actors, informal associational initiatives have to contend with disruptive effects of poverty, intense competition and social and legal marginalization which constrain popular organization from within. Through a micro-politics of organizational networks in three informal enterprise associations in Nigeria, this article explores the ways in which prolonged economic and social stress combines with political marginalization to turn even economically dynamic and highly organized informal activities from a terrain of collective agency to an uneven playing field of volatile strategies, social fragmentation and pervasive exclusion. A realistic assessment of the obstacles to informal collective action is used to explore more effective forms of informal mobilization and political engagement in the context of African informal economies.