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  • Domesticating the World: African Consumerism and the Genealogies of Globalization
  • Mariam Konate Deme
Domesticating the World: African Consumerism and the Genealogies of Globalization. By Jeremy Prestholdt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008. 288 pp. $65.00 (cloth); $27.95 (paper).

In this volume, Prestholdt challenges the idea that globalization is a purely contemporary phenomenon. More important, he also challenges the all too common myth that the global has always influenced the local, and that so-called "marginal" parts of the globe, such as Africa, have never really factored in the equation of global relationships prior to the advent of Western imperialism. Domesticating the World critically analyzes the limitations of contemporary discourse about globalization that not only paints a picture of the past as a period of complete isolation and nonexistent geographical contact between different parts of the world but also presumes global interactions as a unilateral trajectory that only benefited Western interests in the world. The book is divided into six chapters.

In chapter 1, the author uses the example of self-representation by Mutsamuduans of Nzwani Island in the Mozambique Channel to demonstrate that consumer desires can completely change the sociocultural and economic balance between the country of origin and the country of destination of those goods. Prestholdt contends that a closer analysis of the cultural domestication of imported goods might and does reveal the way those objects can transform the pattern and meaning of the relationship between the local and the global. Here, the author does an awesome job demonstrating that East Africans used the tactic of their similarities and affinities with the English to gain an upper hand over the more powerful British Empire. However, Prestholdt fails to point out the fact that in the context of Britain's imperialistic interests in Zanzibar at the dawn of the nineteenth century and British people's preconceived ideas about Africans as childish and in need of Western tutelage, it was crucial for Africans to maintain an image of equality, reciprocity, likeness, and interdependence with their Western partners. Consequently, the local taste for European imported goods that the Nzwanians of East Africa displayed to their British visitors symbolized more their desire to prove their humanity to the British than to advance their own personal economic interests.

In the second chapter, the author discusses the impact of consumer demand in Mombasa, the second largest commercial center in East Africa. Prestholdt explores the psychological and social origins of Mombasan consumerism by looking at three fundamental mental agencies that Mombasans believe strongly influence human longing, love, and desire for material possessions. Of particular interest to the reader here is the discussion of the interplay between Mombasans' perception [End Page 569] of personhood and their desires for material products, as it allows a better understanding of the ways in which East Africans' consumer decision making has affected globalization.

Chapter 3 offers an analysis of the impact that East African consumerism has had on global networks. Prestholdt does an excellent job using East African cultural and economic patterns of consumer demands to make the point that scholars of globalization have underestimated the contributions that so called "marginal" nations in forgotten parts of the planet have had on the global economy. Indeed, this analysis of nineteenth-century East African consumer demands and its relation with Europe, America, and Asia questions the old notion of the core/periphery theory (p. 60) and considers the impact of East African consumerism on the world economy.

In chapter 4, the author looks at the process of domestication through which East Africans appropriated imported consumer goods and gave them social, cultural, and economic meanings that reflected their own values, values that were completely different from the intended meanings and functions of those objects. Prestholdt shows that Zanzibaris used imported goods to symbolize their social reality, a reality in which class distinctions and appearances were a very critical aspect of everyday social interactions. Consequently, manufactured goods were used to symbolize status and to differentiate between the rich and the poor, the free and the unfree. As this chapter concludes, Prestholdt underscores the fact that consumer trends in nineteenth-century Zanzibar represented the signs of East Africa's social and economic...


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