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Gossip, Markets, and Gender

How Dialogue Constructs Moral Value in Post-Socialist Kilimanjaro

Tuulikki Pietilä

Publication Year: 2007

"All traders are thieves, especially women traders," people often assured social anthropologist Tuulikki Pietilä during her field work in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, in the mid-1990s. Equally common were stories about businessmen who had "bought a spirit" for their enrichment. Pietilä places these and similar comments in the context of the liberalization of the Tanzanian economy that began in the 1980s, when many men and women found themselves newly enmeshed in the burgeoning market economy. Even as emerging private markets strengthened the position of enterprising people, economic resources did not automatically lead to heightened social position. Instead, social recognition remained tied to a complex cultural negotiation through stories and gossip in markets, bars, and neighborhoods.
    With its rich ethnographic detail, Gossip, Markets, and Gender shows how gossip and the responses to it form an ongoing dialogue through which the moral reputations of trading women and businessmen, and cultural ideas about moral value and gender, are constructed and rethought. By combining a sociolinguistic study of talk, storytelling, and conversation with analysis of gender, the political economy of trading, and the moral economy of personhood, Pietilä reveals a new perspective on the globalization of the market economy and its meaning and impact on the local level.

Winner, Aidoo-Snyder Prize, African Studies Association Women’s Caucus

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

In the course of this study I have received support and assistance from a number of people and institutions. I owe my greatest thanks to the many Chagga market women, neighbors, and friends who allowed me to enter their lives and endured my endless questions...

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pp. 3-26

Tanzania, like many other African countries, has moved into a neoliberal era. In Tanzania, the shift began in the mid-1980s, after two decades of socialist rule and heavy centralization of its economy and administration...

Part 1. Women

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1. Domesticating the Market, Marketing the Domestic

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pp. 29-62

At present, open marketplaces are the most important marketing channel for food in both rural and urban Tanzania. Grain marketing was for a long time outside the control of private African traders...

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2. Feeding, Drinking, and Eating: Market Women Restructuring Gender

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pp. 63-88

I once observed a situation in the market place where a prominent female trader was having a loud dispute with a male customer. Another important female trader, with whom I was sitting nearby, snorted disapprovingly: “That woman!” A man, next to her, echoed her contempt...

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3. Constructing Moral Reputation: The Case of Mama Njau

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pp. 89-117

Mama Njau is one of the most prosperous and visible women traders in Mayanka, a “big woman” in every respect. Her affluence is indicated by her body weight, which has increased to a level many local people consider excessive...

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4. From Captured Wives to Bound Men: Rethinking Female Respect

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pp. 118-139

In addition to their market rhetoric, the market women take part in discussions of female respect in their recollections of their marriages by capture, which this chapter examines. I suggest that in collective memory wife-capture marriages have come to represent...

Part 2. Men

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5. Urban Men in Their Home Lineages

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pp. 143-164

For a number of decades, reproduction and enrichment have required increased mobility of Chagga men, as well. Men’s sources of and places to acquire wealth underwent changes in the twentieth century...

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6. Making Sense of Failure: Stories of Businessmen and Wealth

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pp. 165-190

This chapter deals with stories that people in Mayanka tell about businessmen who were unable to transform their riches into enduring wealth. Such men also failed to attain full personhood...

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pp. 191-202

Listening to gossip and other informal conversations in the mid-1990s in Kilimanjaro, one easily got the impression that the cause of moral upheaval is in the increasing importance of markets and individualistic profit-seeking attitudes—precisely the issues propelled by neoliberal policies...


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pp. 203-216


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pp. 217-219


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pp. 221-234


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pp. 235-241

E-ISBN-13: 9780299220938
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299220945

Publication Year: 2007