On Watching Shoes Being Made in Addis Ababa

Elsje Fourie*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In this work of creative nonfiction, I use a visit to an Ethiopian shoe factory, where I observed the application of Japanese methods of productivity, as a lens to reflect on the ambiguities, inconsistencies, and ethical dilemmas thrown up both by such fieldwork and the larger project of promoting industrialization in Ethiopia. The reader is introduced to the cast of characters present that day and invited to follow many of them into settings beyond the factory floor. In listening to this polyphony of voices and trying to shape them into something legible in my writing, I find a parallel in the efforts of my academic field—development studies—to formulate interventions and policy prescriptions in the face of incomplete and conflicting information. The result is a cautious step towards hope and optimism and away from paralysis and despair: perhaps we can do no more than stitch together the collected parts and offer them for others to try on, but perhaps this is enough. This reflection can be read as a companion piece to my full-length research article on the subject (Fourie 2020). [fieldwork, ethnography, Ethiopia, development studies, creative nonfiction].

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-82
Number of pages6
JournalAnthropology and Humanism
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


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