Conspicuous Consumption in Africa
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In 1899, Thorstein Veblen coined the phrase `conspicuous consumption' to describe status-seeking in the obscenely unequal world of late-nineteenth century America. Many of the aspects he described in The Theory of the Leisure Class are still evident in our world today. While Veblen's crude denunciation of material extravagance finds echoes in media exposes about the lifestyles of the rich worldwide, it is particularly recognisable in reporting on Africa. Here, images of conspicuous consumption have long circulated in local and global media as indictments of political corruption and signs of moral depravity.
The essays in Conspicuous Consumption in Africa put Veblen's concept under robust critical scrutiny, drawing on theorists like Mbembe, Guyer and Bayart by way of critique or addition. They delve into the pleasures, stresses and challenges of consuming in its religious, generational, gendered and racialised aspects, revealing conspicuous consumption as a layered set of practices, textures and relations. The authors resist the trap of easy moralisation, pointing to more complex ethical and political registers of analysis and judgement. This volume shows how central and revealing conspicuous consumption can be to fathoming the history of Africa's projects of modernity, and their global lineages and legacies. In its grounded, up-close case studies, it is likely to feed into current public debates on the nature and future of African societies - South African society in particular.
List of Illustrations
Chapter 1 Thinking with Veblen: Case Studies from Africa's Past and Present - Deborah Posel and Ilana van Wyk
Chapter 2 Changes in the Order of Things: Department Stores and the Making of Modern Cape Town - Deborah Posel
Chapter 3 Conspicuously Public: Gendered Histories of Sartorial and Social Success in Urban Togo - Nina Sylvanus
Chapter 4 Etienne Rousseau, Broedertwis and the Politics of Consumption within Afrikanerdom - Stephen Sparks
Chapter 5 Recycling Consumption: Political Power and Elite Wealth in Angola - Claudia Gastrow
Chapter 6 Chiluba's Trunks: Consumption, Excess and the Body Politic in Zambia - Karen Tranberg Hansen
Chapter 7 Jacob Zuma's Shamelessness: Conspicuous Consumption, Politics and Religion - Ilana van Wyk
Chapter 8 Precarious `Bigness': A `Big Man', his Women and his Funeral in Cameroon - Rogers Orock
Chapter 9 Young Men of Leisure? Youth, Conspicuous Consumption and the Performativity of Dress in Niger - Adeline Masquelier
Chapter 10 Booty on Fire: Looking at Izikhothane with Thorstein Veblen - Jabulani G Mnisi
Chapter 11 Conspicuous Queer Consumption: Emulation and Honour in the Pink Map - Bradley Rink
Chapter 12 The Politics and Moral Economy of Middle-Class Consumption in South Africa - Sophie Chevalier
Chapter 13 Marigold Beads: Who Needs Diamonds?! - Joni Brenner and Pamila Gupta
Ilana van Wyk is a lecturer in Anthropology at Stellenbosch University and former editor-in-chief of Anthropology Southern Africa.
Joni Brenner is a practising artist and a principal tutor in History of Art at the University of the Witwatersrand. She has a master's degree in Fine Arts, and has taught in Visual Literacy and History of Art.
Sophie Chevalier is a professor of Anthropology at the University of Picardie. She is the editor of Anthropology at the Crossroads: The View from France and co-editor of Paris, residence secondaire.
Claudia Gastrow is a lecturer in the Department of Anthropology and Development Studies at the University of Johannesburg.
Pamila Gupta is an associate professor at WISER at the University of the Witwatersrand. She is the author of The Relic State: St Francis Xavier and the Politics of Ritual in Portuguese India and co-editor of Eyes Across the Water: Navigating the Indian Ocean.
Adeline Masquelier is Professor of Anthropology at Tulane University. She is the author of Prayer Has Spoiled Everything: Possession, Power, and Identity in an Islamic Town of Niger; Women and Islamic Revival in a West African Town (2010 Herskovits award and 2012 Aidoo-Snyder prize).
Jabulani Mnisi is a doctoral candidate in Communication Science at the University of Johannesburg, with a focus on conspicuous consumption and masculinities in the activities of the subculture of ukukhothana. He is employed as a programme head at the Independent Institute of Education.
Rogers Orock is a lecturer in Social Anthropology at the Department of Anthropology, University of the Witwatersrand.
Bradley Rink is a senior lecturer in the Department of Geography, Environmental Studies and Tourism at the University of the Western Cape.
Nina Sylvanus is associate professor of Anthropology at Northeastern University. She is the author of Patterns in Circulation: Cloth, Gender and Materiality in West Africa.
Karen Tranberg Hansen is an anthropologist with extensive research experience in Zambia. Books authored include Distant Companions: Servants and Employers in Zambia 1900-1985; Keeping House in Lusaka and Salaula: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia.
Stephen Sparks is a senior lecturer in the History Department at the University of Johannesburg.