Accepted Paper:

has pdf download Selling an 'image of leisure': women's small-scale trade and consumption in Dakar, Senegal  


Agnes Hann (London School of Economics and Political Science)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses urban Senegalese women's small-scale trade in consumer goods. It is argued that these traders' work practices and the consumption of their wares are linked to ideas about social visits, the importance of appearances, leisure time and gender.

Paper long abstract:

Many urban Senegalese women trade small quantities of consumer goods such as clothes, shoes, perfume or mobile phones through networks of friends and family to whom they extend credit. They self-identify as entrepreneurs and aspire to become a part of a global capitalist economy. Although they are sometimes accused of being greedy and materialistic, their activities are accepted and a few are able to achieve considerable success. Traders combine their work with social visits, since they have few other ways of bringing their merchandise to their clients' attention. Although social visits are commonplace in Dakar, they require a relatively high degree of preparation and attention to one's appearance. Traders are careful to look their best on these occasions, wearing fully accessorised outfits which may in fact include examples of the items they retail. They make their merchandise attractive by epitomizing an ideal of well-being and leisure which their clients can emulate through purchase of their wares.

This paper attempts to make visible the connections between women's small-scale trade, and the entitlement to consume in urban Senegal. I argue that the two are not merely joined in a cycle of supply and demand, with the commmercantes providing clients with consumer goods on credit. Rather, the practice of commerce, which generally takes place during social visits, is facilitated by a cultural and gendered expectation of consumption and dressing well in the context of leisure time. This is connected, on the one hand, to specific cultural and historical factors including fear of gossip, hierarchy and patron-clientage, the development of urban identities, and Islam. It is also shaped by ideas about men and women's roles and the way in which work time and leisure time are gendered.

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Work and consumption: insurmountable links in uncertain times (EN) (FR)