Date of Degree
Setha M. Low
Based on twelve months of fieldwork in Dakar, Senegal and funded by the Wenner Gren Foundation, this thesis examines how in the context of contemporary globalization, increased volumes of luxury commodities shape the modern consciousness of individuals in a developing African city. This project specifically examines this phenomenon through a study of youth clothing consumption. Dakar is a consumer society with particular consumer dynamics. In addition to class, patron-clientage and kinship are central to understanding contemporary patterns of consumption in Dakar. Clothing is a commodity that has been radically altered by urbanization and the globalization of manufacturing processes and advertising. Clothing is also a realm of cultural expression that has particular importance to Dakarois and it is the focus of many urban consumption competitions. In this study, the cultural dynamics of clothing consumption are examined through an integrated lens of the "private" and "public" dimensions of commodities. A balanced examination of the symbolic meanings and patterns of circulation and exchange reveals how youth are critical to an understanding of Dakar clothing practices and Senegalese consumption competitions in general. It illuminates how youth are liberated and oppressed by clothing consumption in the current context of globalization.
The data for this dissertation was collected using a combination of traditional and non-traditional research methods. In addition to participant observation, household surveys and semi-structured interviews, youth participants produced teen fashion magazines based on their own photography and writings, and authored a street language dictionary. The collaborative research methods adopted in this study demonstrate how anthropology is an additional "external" force shaping clothing consumption along with transnational migration, media and decentralized production. Dakarois' intense interest and awareness of clothing commodities and competitions are not "pure" outcomes of globalization or Senegalese cultural life. Rather, they are the result of local and global phenomena intersecting with one another while shaping the relationships between people and things.
Scheld, Suzanne, "Clothes Talk: Youth Modernities and Commodity Consumption in Dakar, Senegal" (2003). CUNY Academic Works.