Accepted Paper:

Boom and crisis of a cultural market: small-scale souvenir vending in Senegalese tourism since the 1960s  


Georg Materna (BIGSAS, University of Bayreuth)

Paper short abstract:

Boom and crisis on cultural markets strongly influence the entrepreneurial leeway of people engaged in the sale of cultural commodities. I will retrace the ascension and decay of souvenir vending in Senegal by alluding to trans-local and local discourses around souvenirs and its vendors.

Paper long abstract:

Senegal's cultural policy in the 1960s was based on President L. S. Senghor's concept of négritude. Senghor perceived culture as a means of development. Due to his initiative, the first World Festival of Black Arts took place in 1966 which boosted the promotion of Senegalese crafts on an international level. Souvenir vending became very lucrative and attracted, next to the craftsmen (ñeeño) who began selling and still hold a major part of the business, large parts of the Senegalese population. Today, however, the boom of African arts is over. Instead of "traditional" artefacts, tourists are buying "recycling art" and clothes.

Conceptualising souvenirs as comments on tourists' experiences, this change reflects a new tourist gaze on Senegal. This new gaze is informed by problems of development, pollution, muddling one's way through life and the utility of the object; but no longer primarily by "traditional Africanity". Souvenir vendors, however, lack the means to influence these "touristic narratives" on a general scale; instead, they try to adapt to tourists' tastes and to "enchant" the tourist in personal interaction.

Structurally, the demand side, personified by tourists, is mostly informed by transnational narratives whereas the supply side, personified by vendors, currently lacks the means to promote its products on such a level. These differences influence the saleability of cultural commodities in the Senegalese context but they need to be generally taken into account when discussing cultural entrepreneurs and cultural markets.

Panel P112
Cultural entrepreneurs in Africa: endeavors, constraints and pathways of success (EASA Africanist Network)