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‘Day Labour’ and ‘Xenophobia’ in South Africa: the Need for Mixed Methods Approaches in Policy-Orientated Research

Abstract

Much policy-orientated research in South Africa relies solely on large-scale surveys. Little or no case study research is undertaken as part of studies despite broad international acknowledgement of the benefits of mixing methods. In the South African poverty and demographic literature, strong arguments have been made for the incorporation of case study approaches to arrive at a deeper and more accurate understanding of social phenomena. This paper, which draws on an ethnographic study of ‘day labourers’ (both South African and foreign) in Cape Town, together with an extensive range of relevant literature, extends this line of argument to research on casual employment and relations between South Africans and foreign nationals. It highlights a number of questionable assumptions and superficial analyses present in previous survey-based research on these topics. It also discusses the potential contribution of more case study work and some of the practical issues associated with linking methodologies in development research.

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Notes

  1. To clarify, large-scale survey refers to a structured questionnaire administered to a target population spread out over a town/city, province, or the country. Case study refers broadly to a small-scale, contextual and in-depth study (Verschuren 2003). Case study research, involving one or more case studies, can include an array of research activities generating mostly qualitative but also quantitative data: un-/semi-structured interviews, focus groups, participant observation, participatory methods, as well as small-scale quantitative surveys. Mixed methods research then refers here, first and foremost, to the integration of specific (i.e. case study) and general (i.e. large-scale survey) methodologies (see also Barret 2003; Kanbur 2003).

  2. For simplicity’s sake, the term foreigner is used to refer to a black African migrant.

  3. See, e.g. Kanbur (2002), White (2002), Herring (2003), Rao and Woolcock (2003) and Mayoux and Chambers (2005).

  4. My research was undertaken in winter; it is likely that in summer and spring, there would be more day labourers at the pick-up sites for reasons discussed later in the paper.

  5. There were only male day labourers at the three sites that I visited, though a minority of women do participate in this job-seeking practice in South Africa (see, e.g. Blaauw et al. 2006).

  6. For a detailed discussion of how ‘informal’ and ‘formal’ employment is defined in South Africa, see Devey et al. (2006b) and Valodia et al. (2006).

  7. This is known to be the case with ‘day labourers’ in the USA (see, e.g. Theodore et al. 2006, p. 411).

  8. Of the 66,578 Zimbabwean asylum applicants between 2000 and April 2008, 710 were granted refugee status, some 4,000 were rejected and over 62,000 cases were left pending (CoRMSA 2007, p. 13, quoted in Kriger 2010).

  9. The one notable exception is Mattes et al. (1999).

  10. While such an assumption may have had some basis, employers also seemed to prefer foreigners because of a complicated confluence of popular stereotyping and rational discrimination (see also Rogerson 1999; Crush 1999)—as well as prejudice against working class Black South Africans, which can be related to the history of racial apartheid.

  11. For theory on the self-conscious manipulation of cultural boundaries, see, e.g. Harrison (1999).

  12. This question is specific and therefore quite straightforward to answer. However, in a large-scale, quantitative attitude surveys, the corresponding question might be ‘Do foreigners commit crime in South Africa?’, which is highly ambiguous given that it is perfectly possible to hold that a select group of foreigners are criminally oriented, while all the others are not.

  13. It is generally accepted that there is no static underlying evaluation behind respondents’ answers to attitude questions (Sudman et al. 1996; Tourangeau et al. 2000). Survey responses are based on information—including vague impressions and general values—that is readily available (Sudman et al. 1996, p. 72). Thus, the widespread xenophobia discourse is likely to significantly affect respondents’ answers to survey questions, without necessarily affecting their essential feelings towards foreigners.

  14. For this well-known problem related to methodological individualism in attitude surveys, see, e.g. Zaller and Feldman 1992.

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Acknowledgments

Earlier versions of this paper were presented at the South African City Studies Conference at the University of Cape Town, 7–9 September 2011, and at the Youth Forum of the Urban Revolutions Conference at Tarumanangara University, Jakarta, 16–20 March 2012. Thank you to participants at these events for their feedback. Thank you also to Mallikya Shakya, John Sharp and an anonymous reviewer for valuable written comments. I am also grateful to Andrew Spiegel for supervising the original research project and to George Ellis for funding it. All views expressed are my own.

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Sharp, M. ‘Day Labour’ and ‘Xenophobia’ in South Africa: the Need for Mixed Methods Approaches in Policy-Orientated Research. Urban Forum 24, 251–268 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12132-012-9152-2

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Keywords

  • Informal economy
  • Day labour
  • Xenophobia
  • Immigration
  • Policy research
  • Mixed methods research