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SIEF2013 11th Congress: Tartu, Estonia.
30 June - 4 July, 2013

SIEF2013: Circulation

Tartu, Estonia; 30th June - 4th July


Money, goods and information: circulation and culture in the late modern developing world

Location Ülikooli 16, 214
Date and Start Time 02 July, 2013 at 14:45


Laura Stark (University of Jyväskylä) email
Jukka Jouhki (University of Jyväskylä) email
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Short Abstract

This panel examines how people in so-called developing countries are being affected by global flows of money, goods, information, people, technologies, and religion, and how critical ethnographic research can produce richer insights into these processes and their social and cultural consequences.

Long Abstract

Global economic, technological and cultural forces are giving rise to rapid social and cultural change in so-called developing countries, much of which has not yet been studied in sufficient depth using ethnographic methods. The influx of Western goods and media, in-country and cross-border migration, new religious forms, new political alliances and the rapid adoption of mobile phones by even the poorest of the poor, are all transforming socio-cultural landscapes in low-income countries with far-reaching consequences. The new global circulation of goods and information threatens some cultural forms and expressions of identity, but at the same time creates new and hybrid ones. Global consumer culture and access to new types of media give rise to new forms of social networking and new survival and life strategies. At the same time, however, researchers' uncritical application of North American and European cultural concepts to global processes in Africa, Asia and Latin America may be obscuring our understanding of these changes. For instance, research thus far has suggested that in many African societies, money is understood in a very different way than it is in the West: as a strongly emotional means of creating social ties and identity rather than merely an impersonal medium of rational exchange. The aim of this panel is to explore the new cultural meanings and forms of social organization emerging in the context of globalizing late modernity in developing countries, with a particular focus on reciprocity and flows of money, information, people, and goods.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Uses, worries and gaps: value and significance of mobile telephony in South Indian villages

Author: Jukka Jouhki (University of Jyväskylä)  email

Short Abstract

The results of my ethnographic research in India suggest that even though the cell phone saves time and money, and helps to maintain social networks, it also appears to reinforce the gap between sexes, age groups and castes.

Long Abstract

Indian people feel that the cellphone has improved their lives socially and economically. It saves time and money, helps to maintain social networks, and provides access to entertainment and online information. The findings of my 5-month ethnographic fieldwork in the coastal villages of Tamil Nadu in South India concur this view, to some extent. People have welcomed the ease and efficiency of mobile telephony but are also concerned about the new technology. This is most evident in the discourses about the youth and their mobile phone use. As the young master the technology better than their elders and are more prone to use it frequently, there are worries about the youth "misusing" the phone for interacting with the opposite sex, for example. Moreover, despite common scholarly visions of mobile phones increasing gender equality, the value, use and actual benefits of the new technology seem to reflect traditional patriarchal gender relations within the society. Women own, use and master the phone less than men. Hence a mobile telephony gap can be detected between genders as well as socio-economic classes and/or castes in my fieldwork area. Thus, I suggest that even though the cell phone improves the quality of life of people in absolute terms (meaning that almost everyone benefits from it) at the same time it reflects and possibly reinforces boundaries between the young and the old, men and women as well as socio-economic strata.

The role of rotating credit systems in women's informal trade in the Cameroonian grasslands

Author: Sanna Tawah (University of Jyväskylä)  email

Short Abstract

The paper presents a case of female market traders in the Bamenda grasslands region in Cameroon, who are professionally engaged in the "buyam-sellam" market trade. The paper discusses ways in which female traders generate capital to their micro businesses through informal, rotating credit groups.

Long Abstract

Informal trade is crucially important in Cameroon, where 90% of jobs are found in the informal sector. Informal economy in Cameroon is growing and for many, informal trade is the only option for survival. In Cameroon, women's contribution to household incomes is significant. This paper presents a case of female market traders in the Bamenda grasslands in the Anglophone region of Cameroon, who are professionally engaged in the "buyam-sellam" market trade. The paper focuses on how market traders create capital for their micro businesses through informal njangi gatherings or meetings (rotating credit circles). The weekly or monthly meetings provide an important insight into market trade and its connectedness to money and networks (social and business) and the way in which they are intermingled: the meetings have an economic as well as social aspect. The meetings serve as important means to obtain much needed business capital or micro loans for business. Money is central to the livelihoods of people, money symbolically equals to life. In njangis, when people have their turn to receive the money pot, it is called to chop moni (to eat money). The importance of money in the markets is highlighted in the way which people talk or avoid the topic of money, and how suspicions will raise of owning much money, or jealousy of somebody's business generating more money than others. The paper will discuss the market trade in relation to money circulation, rotating credit circles and money flows between big town markets and village markets.

Transactional sex in a Tanzanian slum

Author: Laura Stark (University of Jyväskylä)  email

Short Abstract

Using interviews conducted in low-income areas of Dar es Salaam, I examine how a focus on transactional sex provides insights into gendered economic inequalities, the cultural construction of love and social trust, and the role of transactional sex in the continuation of poverty across generations.

Long Abstract

In transactional sex (henceforth TS), girls and women engage in sexual relationships with men who give money or material gifts in return. TS differs from prostitution in that gift exchanges for sex are often part of long-term relationships. Whereas earlier studies concentrated on poor women who were compelled to have sex with men to meet their basic needs, it is increasingly understood that there is a continuum between 'survival sex' and those sexual transactions in which women strive to obtain Western consumer goods for status purposes. On the basis of interviews conducted in 2010 and 2012 in low-income areas of Dar es Salaam, I examine first how TS illuminates the economic inequalities that prevail between women and men in Sub-Saharan Africa and posit that the money given in transactional sex should not be viewed from a Western perspective as merely an impersonal medium of rational exchange, but as having a strong emotive component. On the other hand, TS seems to contribute to low levels of social trust not only in heterosexual relationships, but also in relationships between parents/grandparents and children. In the context of chronic poverty, familial strategies out of poverty depend on cooperation among family members, but TS offers individuals competing social networks outside the family through which they can increase their social, emotional and economic capital. From the family's point of view, however, the problem with TS is that it can lead to the intergenerational transmission of familial and female poverty through early pregnancy and early marriage.

Barter in monetized and informal economy

Author: Andris Saulitis (The New School for Social Research)  email

Short Abstract

The paper examines the barter transactions in Latvia. The focus is on barter shop “Tautas Veikals Tautai” in Latvia’s town Rauna. The shop is important social institution for people, but state has unclear legal regulation of barter deals.

Long Abstract

The article analyses the barter transactions and clients in the shop "Tautas Veikals Tautai" ["Shop of People for People"] (hereinafter, TVT), located in Rauna, north Latvia. Transactions in the shop are done only in the form of barter/, without the involvement of money. This paper investigates the reasons for the barter transactions to emerge and the role of the informal economy.

The shop plays significant role of a social institution in the society and illustrates the lack of the state to offer effective social aid for the society. There is also a lack of trust from the society towards the state institutions. Although there are no money used in the transactions, the individuals perception of money plays significant and important role in the transactions. Overall, the research makes possible to look on the barter as a socioeconomic phenomenon, which reflects the social relations of the society, leading to the unique form of the barter.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.