Marginal Gains, Market Values, and History
Inspired by Jane Guyer's insights in Marginal Gains (2004) into the distinctive logics and performative repertoires that animate economic life in Africa, this article offers a few reflections on the implications of African economic dynamics for conceptual debates about economic and social meanings of value. In particular, it is suggested that market values may be understood not simply as momentary quantitative indicators or measurements of opportunity costs, but as social processes in which people continually assess present circumstances and options in terms of their understandings of the past. Since history may always be read in more than one way, there is always an element of ambiguity in market values. Rather than a chronicle of exceptional responses to global forces and common human needs, African economic history may be read as an opportunity to reflect on how people and events come together in economically enabling or destructive ways in particular times and places, and what is historically specific about Africans' gains and losses from economic interactions with one another and with other parts of the world.