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Informality in the South African labour market in context: indicators of the limits to evidence-based research?

31 March 2014
12:30 - 13:30

Speakers: Dr David Fryer, senior lecturer, Department of Economics and Economic History at Rhodes University
Date: 31 March 2014
Time: 12H15 for 12h30  – 13H30  

This paper addresses the issue of conceptual ambiguity and how it relates to labour market data, with a particular focus on informality.  Although a ‘basic portrait’ of the South African labour market has emerged, empirical uncertainty remains a key source of obscurity in a range of economic debates.  In particular, debates about informality and the appropriate degree and nature of regulation remain as polarized as they were in the early 1990s.  Answering specific questions about the ‘informal sector’ (appropriate policies to support SMEs, the question of microfinance, the issue of skills development) is hardly possible in this context.  The paper argues that resolving this impasse depends not on more data but on better conceptualization of the labour market.  This in turn depends on an understanding of context, that is, South Africa’s socio-economic and political structure and its global articulation.  The paper suggests that ‘orthodox’ conceptions of labour market structure are characterised by the same basic problem as the ‘empirical agenda’: that is, they try to impose a preconceived conceptual framework that neither fits the ‘facts’ nor exhibits internal consistency. Alternative conceptions (grouped together for convenience under the label ‘varieties of capitalism’) are more promising. 

Dr David Fryer is a senior lecturer in the Department of Economics and Economic History at Rhodes University.  He teaches microeconomics (at second year level), political economy and labour (honours) and macroeconomic (honours). He is working on a PhD on unemployment and the social democratic alternative in South Africa. In addition to labour market issues, his current research interests include macroeconomics (particularly, the role of credit rating agencies) and the sustainability of the recent growth acceleration in sub-Saharan Africa.  He is an associate of the Neil Aggett Labour Studies Unit at Rhodes University and a participant in the Political Economy of Restructuring South Africa (PERSA) research project.  – See more at:

Kindly RSVP by 17 March 2014

This seminar may be attended via video conference in Pretoria, Cape Town and KwaZulu-Natal. Details as below.  

Cape Town : HSRC, 12th Floor, Plein Park Building (Opposite Revenue Office), Plein Street, Cape Town. Contact Jean Witten, Tel (021) 4668004, Fax (021) 461 0299, or

Durban :  First floor HSRC board room, 750 Francois Road, Ntuthuko Junction, Pods 5 and 6, Cato Manor, Contact Ridhwaan Khan, Tel (031) 242 5400, cell: 083 788 2786 or

Pretoria : HSRC Video Conference, 1st floor HSRC Library Human Sciences Research Council, 134 Pretorius Street, Pretoria. Arlene Grossberg, Tel: (012) 302 2811, e-mail: