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Accepted Paper:

“Yu sabi fᴐ tᴐk prays”: performing and navigating just prices in the streets of Makeni, northern Sierra Leone  
Michael Bürge (University of Konstanz)

Paper short abstract:

My paper focuses on how young men hustling northern Sierra Leone’s roads bring in and exclude diverse scales of value(s) into performances and navigations of just price for food and commodities. Beyond being monetary, just prices reflect and produce transient social relations and personal aspirations.

Paper long abstract:

In Makeni, northern Sierra Leone, prices for everyday goods appear to be transparent and comparable due to a – often by the state – fixed relation between monetary retribution and quantity acquired. Nonetheless, ethnographic insights show the indeterminacy of the final (just) price for e.g. rice, palmwine or cannabis and its irreducibility to monetary value. Prices comprise of, reflect and produce social relations and political conjunctures. This paper focuses on the diverse performances and scales of value(s), in which multifaceted prices are continuously re-negotiated. Bags for measuring rice can differ between customers. Discounts given or services included in calculations change. The transition from British imperial to metric measures – and their coexistence – offers further possibilities for negotiating (just) prices for palmoil or fuel. Cloth and electronics exist in various qualities not apparent to every eye. Opportunities for exchanges can be denied completely. Approaching price(ing) as performances, I emphasize the multiple skills and techniques needed and enacted for assessing, manipulating and sanctioning prices. I show how young men transporting and transacting goods and people on Makeni’s roads incessantly attune their capabilities for making and obtaining just prices. They try to match their desire ‘to enjoy life’ with the need of being ‘respected and responsible community-members’. Performing and navigating (just) prices, thus, always means to probe economic, social and moral limits. Assessments and negotiations not only concern the ‘actual’ transaction. With Jackson (2015) and Guyer (2004) I argue, they also include indirect and general pricing of ‘moral debts’ of the past and ‘investments’ into the future.

Panel P117
Just prices: moral economic legacies and new struggles over value
  Session 1