Cross-cultural consumption : global markets, local realities by David Howes

By David Howes

What does an American fridge suggest within the Solomon Islands?Cross-Cultural intake is an engaging advisor to the cultural implications of the globalization of a client society.

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It is not surprising, then, that sewing schools had limited appeal at first. In the early years, moreover, there was no regular supply of materials. But by the late 1830s, once merchants had been attracted to the stations, those Tswana women most closely identified with the church had begun to take in sewing for payment (1842:17). This was one of several areas in which the evangelists encouraged commercial relations well ahead of a formal colonial labour market. But even if the missionaries had succeeded immediately in persuading Tswana to clothe themselves, local manufacture would have fallen short of the task.

In each case, the trope was tuned to the tenor of its times. Hence, in early nineteenth-century Africa, the ‘lubricated wild man of the desert’ contrasted with the ‘clean, comfortable and welldressed believer’ as did ‘filthy’ animal fat and skin with the ‘cotton and woollen manufactures of Manchester and Leeds’ (Hughes 1841:523). The early 22 FASHIONING THE COLONIAL SUBJECT evangelists assumed that the benefits of ‘decent dress’ would be self-evident to the Africans: while Moffat (1842:348) found it understandable that Tswana might at first oppose Christian doctrine, he thought it ‘natural’ that they would adopt Western attire ‘for their own comfort and convenience’.

The case centres on a feature quite common in European colonialism: its early moments frequently focused not only on making non-Western peoples want Western goods, but on teaching them to use them in particular sorts of ways (cf. Sahlins 1988). Indeed, imperialists and their merchant associates often sought to prevail by transplanting highly specific regimes of consumption; their conscious concerns, in the first instance, dwelled less on the brute extraction of labour or raw materials than on trade that seemed capable of forging new self-sustaining orders of desire, transaction, and value.

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