Transregional and Transnational Histories of Commodity Cultures in Urban Africa
Date and Start Time 01 July, 2017 at 16:00
Tracing the histories of concrete commodities and cultural practices, this panel explores both urban/rural integration within specific African countries and transregional and transnational interconnections between African cities and multiple, shifting continental and global metropoles.
This panel will explore the history of leisure and consumption in African cities by considering the relationship between the urban and the transregional and transnational. Whereas many scholars of Africa have analyzed historical relations between the urban and the rural, fewer have considered how the experiences and politics of urban Africa have been shaped by the movement of people, ideas, and things between cities on the continent and those in Asia, the Americas, and Europe. How have African cities served as nodes in the international and global circulation and development of various forms of leisure and consumption, ranging from the likes of cinema-going, soccer, and beauty contests in the twentieth century to the procurement and enjoyment of alcohol, spices, cloth, and other commodities over several centuries? To what extent have these forms introduced new political economies and modes of sociality to Africa, and to what extent have Africans remade the structure and meaning of these forms? How has the fact that African cities have long been intimately tied to vast rural hinterlands shaped these processes?
Together, we will consider two themes. First, our panel will highlight how, when it comes to forms of leisure and consumption, traffic with cities in Asia and the Americas - as well as European metropoles - has been important to developments in urban Africa. Second, we will examine the many different historical actors - including traders, business owners, slaves, employees, consumers, entertainers, audiences, players, fans, media entrepreneurs, journalists - who have shaped these developments.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
Work, Leisure, and Consumption and the Market Revolution in Colonial Central Africa
This paper examines the pursuit of leisure time and the acquisition of leisure goods on the Copperbelt in colonial Zambia to explore the implications of the engagement of Copperbelt residents in market culture.
The development of industrial mining on the Zambian Copperbelt is among the most dramatic examples of rapid urbanization in colonial African history. Shortly, tens of thousands had moved into the region—taking jobs and establishing businesses. The migration of men, women and families, African and European, into and out of the Copperbelt closely linked mining communities to rural societies across the region and to South Africa and Europe. As a consequence, people across central Africa and especially in the Copperbelt itself found themselves enmeshed in industrial, commercial and consumer markets that spanned the region and linked the mining region to the global economy. White workers and managers extended consumer markets into the region; and African producers, traders and consumers rapidly developed markets in food, basic household goods, and clothing, extending from towns into the countryside. This paper explores the cultural and intellectual implications of the emergence of such a market culture—a topic rarely directly addressed by historians of Africa. What did it mean to engage a world in which goods and services had monetary value and your own time, even your leisure time, could be priced? Whether it was frequenting the peri-urban shebeens hidden away on the outskirts of Copperbelt towns, or purchasing the slickest new clothes mail order from the UK, or attending a film show, or even planning your retirement, it was often in leisure and the pursuit of pleasure that the market most vividly emerged.
Screening the nation: Commercial cinema and regional integration in mid-century Tanzania
This paper analyzes the relationship between the expansion of commercial cinema after World War Two and the cultural and economic forces of national integration.
This paper analyzes the relationship between the expansion of commercial cinema after World War Two and the cultural and economic forces of national integration. Prior to the 1940s, mass-moviegoing was largely a coastal phenomenon and its epicenter was located in Zanzibar. There were a few regional cinemas in the rural hinterland of what would become Tanzania, but theaters were small and African moviegoing rare. The excitement generated by engagement with global visual media and entrance into a Picture Palace were among the many economic and cultural divides that distanced coastal urban residents from their rural, up-country cousins. But during and after The War the cinematic cartography of the nation rapidly changed. By the mid-1950s going to the movies and debating films and stars generated feelings of commonality that not only linked people across Tanzania, but helped to distinguish them from regional neighbors. National unity was not simply a political project, it was fostered by commercial networks and enhanced through cultural consumption.
This paper examines the historical processes of this movement towards national integration, analyzing how the expansion of commercial cinema fostered bonds of rural-urban connection. It also examines how feelings of unity expressed in the 1950s by regional moviegoers quickly changed into voices of awe and resentment in the 1960s as the economic, political and cultural power of the capital city Dar es Salaam grew in the first decade after independence.
Advertising and consumption in 1940s and 50s Kenyan Indian newspapers
Newspapers became commodities in colonial Kenya fra around 1910, providing local and internation infrastructure for trade, relying on income from ads. Post WW II the commodities advertised in Asian newspapers were related to domesticity. What do they tell about the rise of an Asian middle class?
Newspapers and the printing industry were among the pioneering capitalist enterprises in colonial Kenya. Newspapers moved away from being the voice of government to becoming market commodities, relying on income from advertising. From the early 20th century onwards, newspapers were a key commodity that enabled local and transnational communication, commerce and consumption. In Kenya the entrepreneurial Asian community were central in trade and in the production of newspapers. The advertisements played along with the journalistic urgency of regularly printing what is new - buying and selling was a matter of life and death. In a 1907, the E.A. Advertiser urged readers, 'Advertise! Advertise!! Advertise!!! Let people know you are alive, that you have something to sell and mean to sell it'. With the rise of an Indian middle class in Kenya, advertisements in the Asian newspapers expanded from servicing enterprises related to finance, commerce and travel, to addressing individual and household consumption. A range of commodities came to signal a desired modernity that was in tune with the secularist and non-sectarian drive of the the press. It was a move to including a female audience, highlighting commodities relating to leisure, beauty, cleanliness and health. In a discussion of a selection of ads from Indian Kenyan newspapers from the 1940s and early 1950s, I want to trace the role of newspaper advertising in the movement from commerce to consumption - and speculate what features of an Asian middle class it may illuminate.
Transnational Technologies of Bodily Self-Fashioning in African Cities
Our joint presentation will explore the usefulness of science and technology studies (STS) to understanding practices and politics of bodily self-fashioning. We'll consider the analytical gains and liabilities of applying STS approaches to the study of beautification and modification in African cities.
We propose to give a combined presentation on the usefulness of science and technology studies (STS) to understanding practices and politics of bodily self-fashioning in African cities and beyond. Our interest in this topic stems from our respective research on hairstyling and skin lightening, and our participation in a collaborative research project, based at the University of Cape Town, on skin lightening.
What are the analytical gains and possible liabilities of applying STS approaches to the study of bodily practices of beautification and modification in cities in West, South, and East Africa? When we cast peoples' efforts to arrange hair, alter skin color, and adjust body parts as technological practices - as opposed to or in addition to analyzing them as beauty rituals, consumer habits, or modes of self-expression - what do learn? What might we lose? Should the decision to designate such practices as technological lay with scholars, the historical and ethnographic subjects they study, or in some combination of these perspectives? What elements are indispensable to STS approaches? Must they necessarily include an attention to the materiality of the objects and processes involved? How might approaching practices of bodily self-fashioning as transnational technologies alter our views of African cities and their hinterlands?
Consumer cultures in the coffee zones of northern Angola
This paper examines the development of consumer cultures in the coffee producing zones of northern Angola between 1920 and 1960. It argues that coffee workers in northern Angola, while deeply immersed in the global economy, kept relatively conservative tastes in relation to imported luxury goods.
In the twentieth century, northern Angola became an important region in the global coffee trade. Growing American demand for robusta beans, particularly after World War Two, drew increasing numbers of Portuguese coffee planters to the region and caused its local trade hub, the coffee town of Uige, to become one of the most affluent cities of colonial Angola. Since the end of the export slave trade, access to imported consumer goods had been an important motivation for smallholders in northern Angola to develop coffee cultivation and for others to hire out their labor on local coffee plantations. Records of twentieth-century import-export firms, such as the Zuid-Afrikaansch Handelshuis (Amsterdam) and Robert Hudson and Sons (Leeds), as well as the multinational consumer goods company Unilever provide clues about the kinds of commodities that coffee producers in Angola were interested in. Preliminary research in these records points to a number of hypotheses, which this paper will discuss. First, a cash (or coin) economy seemed to develop more slowly in Angola than elsewhere in Africa; barter defined commercial exchanges between farmers and coffee traders until after WWII. Second, in this barter trade, textiles remained a dominant currency for much longer than one would expect in a "cash crop" economy. Third, the lack of urban conglomerations (apart from Uige) and a low-wage economy meant that demand for "modern" consumer goods, like soap and cosmetic products, was around 1960 still underdeveloped from the viewpoint of producers like Unilever.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.