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  • Transient Workspaces: Technologies of Everyday Innovation in Zimbabwe by Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga
  • Heather J. Hoag (bio)
Transient Workspaces: Technologies of Everyday Innovation in Zimbabwe. By Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014. Pp. xi+ 296. $34.

In Transient Workspaces: Technologies of Everyday Innovation in Zimbabwe, Clapperton Chakanetsa Mavhunga examines the role of hunting among the vaShona and maTshangana of Zimbabwe in order to show how ordinary people responded to new technologies and incorporated them into their existing practices. The book contributes to the sparse but growing scholarship on the history of science and technology in Africa. Mavhunga argues convincingly that Africa was not just a recipient of outside technologies; rather, African people were “designers” of technology in the innovative ways they chose to use technologies they found valuable (p. 16). Drawing on praise poetry, proverbs, colonial archives, interviews, ethnographic sources, and his own experience, Mavhunga historicizes hunting practices and shows how people pragmatically took advantage of the new technology and colonial context. Using the frame of “mobility,” he effectively shows the ways in which mobility and work were interrelated in people’s lives. Through a detailed discussion of what he calls “the professoriate of the hunt,” Mavhunga argues that rather than displace existing beliefs, Africans incorporated guns on their own terms, and in turn shaped colonial attitudes and policies.

After a brief prologue and introduction, chapter 1, “Guided Mobility,” lays out the spiritual world of the vaShona and maTshangana people and the important role of hunting within it. All movement was “guided mobility” in that ancestral spirits were actively involved in all aspects of life. Chapter 2, “The Professoriate of the Hunt,” analyzes the role of forests as sacred, transient spaces in which work, in this case hunting, took place. A successful hunt relied on a combination of spiritual assistance, a detailed knowledge of nature, and the application of appropriate technology. The focus then shifts to the ways in which guns were incorporated into this spiritual landscape and the complex relationship between African hunting practices and those of encroaching Europeans. Chapter 3, “The Coming of the Gun,” shows “how the professoriate of the hunt provided an anchoring structure through which incoming things like guns found salience among maTshangana, and vaShona” (p. 96). Hunters still sought spiritual guidance and assistance for a successful hunt. But they now chose particular guns for specific reasons, for example the availability of ammunition.

Chapters 4 and 5 explore the impact of an increased colonial presence on hunting practices by examining the “pestiferous mobilities” of the tsetse fly and the colonial reaction to the outbreak of trypanosomiasis in the early twentieth century (p. 102). Whether an “invasion” or a “return,” concern over the disease led colonial authorities to hire African hunters to kill trypanosome [End Page 1002] -carrying animals. For these hunters, this was less about wiping out a disease, and more about procuring meat to feed their communities and bolster their social identities. Chapter 6, “Poaching as Criminalized Innovation,” focuses on the life histories of particular hunters to show how the establishment of game reserves influenced views on African hunting practices. Ultimately, “indigenous hunting was systematically suppressed as criminal acts” (p. 168).

The final chapters carry the story of hunting through Zimbabwe’s war of liberation (Chimurenga) in the 1970s and 1980s to present-day concerns over ivory poaching. Chapter 7, “Chimurenga: The Transient Workspace of Self-Liberation,” shows how national resistance leaders such as Joshua Nkomo tapped into local discontent about land alienation and the criminalization of African hunting to gain support. Nkomo used elements of the “professoriate of the hunt” to elevate his status and gain support; conversely, vaShona used him to voice their grievances. The 1980s brought Zimbabwean independence as well as international concern over the state of Africa’s elephant populations. Supported by international conservation organizations, the government imposed a “fortress conservation” model that cast hunters as poachers (p. 208).

The key theme that runs through Transient Workspaces is African agency. Whether it is adopting technology on their own terms, seeking ways to benefit from the colonial obsession with tsetse fly eradication, or influencing policy “from below,” Mavhunga demonstrates that ordinary people adapted to and shaped the changing...


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