Building Belize City : autonomy, skill and mobility amongst Belizean and Central American construction workers
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This thesis ethnographically explores the connections between labour and social life among workers informally employed in the small-scale construction industry of Belize City, the major urban centre of Belize on the Caribbean coast of Central America. It is grounded in participant observation among workers native to Belize as well as those born in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala who moved to Belize City because of civil wars starting in the 1970s, economic crises and a recent rise in gang-related crime. The thesis first addresses how work is organized according to builders’ skills, and how skill acquisition is tied to the forms of sociality afforded by workers’ relationship to waged work. Labourers who need to generate income by moving around the city and hustling are excluded from forms of sociality which permit skilled workers to stabilize their employment. Moreover, labour is implicated in personal and social worth, as becomes clear through an examination of male workers’ status, reputations and multiple positionalities as kin. Through ethnography both on and off the worksite, the research shows the entanglement of work, friendship and kinship ties, providing an analysis of the social, personal and economic differences these entail. The study foregrounds relationships in the lives of those born in the city as well as recently arrived migrants, while privileging subjective accounts which reveal multiple ways of experiencing the urban environment. This experience of working and living in Belize City is revealed through the future aspirations and ambitions that are conveyed through personal narratives. The thesis captures this plurality of perspectives through the idea of autonomy, a condition valued by workers which serves as a tool for understanding their circumstances at large and the relations between their work and daily life.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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