Analogic asphalt: Suspended value conversions among young road workers in southern Mozambique

Morten Nielsen


This article explores the obviational process through which the value of salaries is continuously being transformed, based on ethnographic fieldwork carried out among young road workers employed by a Chinese construction consortium to rehabilitate the N1 highway in the southern part of Mozambique. To the Mozambican workers, the value of salaries emerged by gradually dropping the traces of its own origin rather than indexing a fixed ratio between labor and money. Only when money received enabled the workers to supplant the fraught relationship to their Chinese superiors—for example, by buying construction materials for a projected cement house—was it considered as a proper salary that connected the present (purchase of building materials) to the past (road work) in a viable manner. Following this initial conversion, I then chart how the emergent temporal association (road work :: house building project) opened toward new images of altered and improved social positions for the young Mozambican road workers. The article proposes to consider value as an optimal way of supplanting (rather than confirming) existing forms of relational meaning by relating a process of suspended value transformations to an over-arching temporal cosmology widespread in the southern part of Mozambique (tomorrowness).

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau3.2.006