Tough Ties and Rough Networks: Inequality and Exploitation in African Slums

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Reciprocity and negativity in social relationships are fundamental topics of social research rarely examined in sub-Saharan Africa. Since the number and quality of relationships is associated with individual outcomes, these ties are particularly important in impoverished areas. We conducted a multi-method study of the conditions associated with problematic networks and difficult people, including face-to-face surveys in Agbogbloshie (Accra, Ghana) and Kangemi (Nairobi, Kenya). While one quarter of all relationships were perceived to be difficult, results reveal significant differences between the two communities in terms of the composition of personal networks and the factors associated with difficulty at both relational and network levels of analysis. Kenyan networks are more difficult when there is an imbalance of assistance provided by the respondent (exploitation), while any imbalance (inequality) is problematic in Ghanaian networks. These findings underscore the importance of independent analyses of negative ties and difficult networks, contributing to a community-based understanding of poverty in urban slums.

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Sociological Forum

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