Publisher: African Studies Association

Regional Shifts—Marginal Gains and Ethnic Stereotypes

Peter Geschiere
KEYWORDS: Regional Shifts—Marginal Gains and Ethnic Stereotypes


This article addresses the question as to how Jane Guyer's seminal explorations of special traits of West African economies in Marginal Gains (2004) can help us understand variations within the region. This question acquires some urgency—for instance in the Cameroonian context, but elsewhere also—since the dimensions she emphasizes (reciprocity, gain, rank) play a crucial role in quite vicious ethnic stereotypes that increasingly dominate people's perceptions of economic developments. The challenge may be, therefore, to determine how an analysis in terms of disjunctures as an asset for marginal gains can steer clear of the ethnic stereotypes through which people themselves perceive discontinuities in everyday life. Starting from the historical example of the wild-rubber boom in southern Cameroon under German rule (1890–1913) and its chaotic effects at the local level, the article considers how Arjun Appadurai's notion of “tournaments of value” might help us understand such variations

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