By David Howes
What does an American fridge suggest within the Solomon Islands?Cross-Cultural intake is an interesting advisor to the cultural implications of the globalization of a client society.
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In recounting such histories, class is not separable from race, or race from gender. It is within this context that we must view the paradoxical emergence of rural ‘folk dress’, which speaks at once of structural regulation, of selective selfexpression, and of the unevenness of commoditization—even within wellcolonized social fields. For while such dress evoked the moral economy of the mission, it also defied the other half of the Protestant message—the injunction to fashion new identities through increasing (if regulated) consumption.
Even the most formal of economic structures may be shown to arise from ordinary transactions. Marx understood this well; after all, he vested his mature account of capitalism in the unobtrusive career of the commodity, that ‘very queer thing’ (Marx 1967, 1:71) whose seemingly trivial production, exchange, and consumption built the contours of a whole social world. This insight turns out to be highly relevant to an understanding of European colonization in nineteenth-century South Africa, especially the project of those ‘humane imperialists’ who hoped to found God’s Kingdom in the savage wilderness.
Dark blue Prints, or Ginghams…or in fact, any kind of dark Cottons, which will wash well—Nothing light-coloured should be worn outside… All the heathen population besmear themselves with red ochre and grease, and as the Christians must necessarily come in contact, with their friends among the heathen, they soon look miserable enough, if clothed in light-coloured things… I like them best as Gowns were made 20 or 30 years ago… For little Girls, Frocks made exactly as you would for the Children of the poor of this country, will be the best.