(University of Sussex)
Sarah-Jane Phelan is a PhD candidate in International Development at the University of Sussex in
England. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Sarah-Jane’s PhD project
focuses on the everyday lives of market traders in Ouagadougou, exploring how they conceptually
and practically navigate the period of rapid change unfolding in the wake of the Burkina Faso’s
2014 insurrection. Focusing on participants’ articulations of the evolving set of constraints they
face in trying to make themselves living, this project focuses on the forms and limits of their own
agency in responding to feeling “cornered” in this market.
Sarah-Jane’s project sits at the seam of Economic Anthropology and Behavioural Economics,
having come from a quantitative background and now enrolled within a qualitatively-focused
academic department. She studied Mathematics at the University of Oxford (MMath, 2009) and
International and Development at Yale University (MA, 2013) with three years working in finance
(actuarial risk management) at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Aviva and MetLife in between
completing undergraduate and starting masters studies.
The idea for Sarah-Jane’s PhD research project originated from the experience of spending 9
months embedded within a micro-savings organization focused on market vendors in
Ouagdougou following her masters studies (2013/2014), and becoming curious about how these
formal financial tools would be contextualised within the financial and social lives of vendors.
Funded by the ILO, this opportunity facilitated an understanding of the global discourse and
associated network of practices within which local articulations of financial inclusion unfold.
Sarah-Jane’s PhD project aims to keep this context in frame while re-centring on the vendors who
incorporate or resist these initiatives when formulating and adapting their complex livelihood
Sarah-Jane’s research interests concern the way in which the global political economy is
experienced in the day-to-day lives of the poor in the Global South, and in particular in the ways
people respond to the shifting nature of the constraints that are imposed on them. In particular,
this current project has honed a moral and intellectual interest in how people continue to shift
both their practical strategies to manage their livelihoods through an unfolding set of crises, and
in a more holistic sense bear the responsibility of shifting the emotional, social and spiritual
landscape of their lives to hold within it these practical strategies.