Making a Life: Doing, Radical Humanism, and Agency

  • David BalwanzEmail author
Reference work entry


More than one billion people globally are making a life outside of the formal labor market. This chapter draws on original research in South Africa to argue that many people are making a life outside of the market in accordance with a set of values which fundamentally contest core assumptions embedded in dominant discourses about the relationship between learning, labor, and having a good life. People we spoke with argued that their making a life was characterized by concrete labor (or doing) and radical humanism and saw these elements as constitutive features of their well-being and instrumental to their well-being improvement. This chapter shares this research, explains the making a life framework, and then draws on this framework to explore its relationship with human agency and capability. In this exploration, the chapter notes that while structural perspectives often emphasize the (very real) agency-freedom constraints facing poor and working class people, a making a life framework demonstrates the inherent agency and humanity expressed by people enduring often extreme hardship and importantly offers a new perspective for interpreting human agency – inclusive of the self-defined efforts of people to make their own lives better and on their own terms.


Concrete labor Doing Radical humanism Agency Making a life 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Education Rights and TransformationUniversity of JohannesburgJohannesburgSouth Africa

Section editors and affiliations

  • Lesley Powell
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of EducationNelson Mandela Metropolitan UniversityPort ElizabethSouth Africa

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