Roadside Inventions: Making Time and Money Work at a Road Construction Site in Mozambique?

Based on ethnographic fieldwork at a road construction site in southern Mozambique, this article explores the peculiar inverse process through which the road project acquired valuable meaning for young Mozambican workers hired by a Chinese construction consortium to rehabilitate the north-south ZZ highway. Without viable alternatives, the Mozambican workers were often compelled to accept the intolerable working conditions that the Chinese company presented them with while still acknowledging that it did, in fact, only aggravate an already difficult situation. Hence, given that the problematic connections to their Chinese superiors obviously lacked the qualities of reciprocal relationships, the money received could not be considered as proper salaries and the hardships endured while mixing sand, cement and gravel did not seem to result in the construction of a road. Still, when the monthly payment could be used, say, as down payment for a piece of land, it unfolded a virtual scenario very unlike that experienced in the present. Rather than indexing an untenable social relationship with the Chinese, it actualized a generative connection between the road and a future house. Although we might imagine the initial moment when the money was first received as indexing an employer-employee relationship, this was subsequently obviated by a new significant connection set-up between the road and a future house that was unfolded from the former (relationship) as the 'real' manifestation of salaries. The emerging house project thus transformed its own origin, as it were, by eliminating the Chinese counterpart as the source of the paid out money.


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  • Accession Number: 01499171
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS
  • Created Date: Oct 31 2013 4:17PM