Constructing Translocal Socioscapes: Consumerism, Aesthetics, and Visuality in Zanzibar Town
Paola Ivanov – 2012
In examining the burgeoning practices of conspicuous consumption of imported commodities in contemporary Zanzibar Town, this contribution seeks to go beyond simplifying interpretations of non-Western consumerism by focusing on the significance of aesthetics and beauty in Zanzibar's social life. Following Alfred Gell, aesthetics is seen as a “technology of enchantment”. It deploys its effectiveness in an agonistic as well as unifying sense in the course of ceremonial exchanges of the gift of beauty, which in turn serves as a veiled disclosure of socioeconomic and moral values in a Muslim world characterised by the habitus of “covering”. It is argued that the topic of aesthetics, which is mostly neglected by anthropology, provides a clue to a deeper understanding of key processes of constructing difference and value, as well as of community building in Swahili societies. Such a perspective reveals specific, culturally shaped patterns not only of consumerism, but also of relating to the social and material world which cannot be subsumed under Western models.