Small towns as research sites: the impacts of deindustrialisation on urban livelihoods in Norton, Zimbabwe

Martin Magidi focusses on small towns as research sites in this paper in The Southern Africa Geographical Journal.


The paper deviates from the general trend to focus on big cities as research sites. It explores the impacts of deindustrialization on urban livelihoods in Norton – a small town west of Harare using the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) to unpack how deindustrialization compromised livelihood assets and outcomes in Norton. Data were collected using triangulation of methods, which comprised interviews and field observations. Findings showed that key industries collapsed, leading to massive job losses, and job-related benefits. Findings further point to reduced service delivery capacity, resulting in poor sanitation, water, and electricity supply in the town, and how these relate to sustainable livelihoods. Deindustrialization also triggered a surge in urban poverty, food insecurity, poor housing, and the rise of the informal economy in Norton. The study concludes that despite its rural origins, the SLA is an effective tool to analyse urban livelihoods. It suggests that deindustrialization tends to be rampant in small towns vis-à-vis big cities. The study further highlights that financial assets tend to be more important in building urban livelihoods than the other forms of assets constitutive of the SLA. It concludes by reflecting on how human skills easily become redundant and stranded assets where industry is dysfunctional.