Making with: Collective aspiration in uncertain conditions

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Jordan, Erin, Anthropology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Igoe, Jim, AS-Anthropology (ANTH), University of Virginia

This dissertation explores the coexistence of intergenerational aspiration with the more urgent need to mitigate environmental crisis and vulnerability in Rural Moshi, Tanzania. My work began with a women’s community bank, formed so that members could build capital to support individual and collective money-making ventures beyond farming. I used participant observation and life history interviewing to understand the Mwangaria Foundation Group as a site of aspirational formation and strategy. Over the three years I worked with the group, their aspirations shifted and changed with relation to available resources and outside input. Representatives from an international NGO continuously encouraged local people to build small businesses and enter larger markets. However, entrepreneurial endeavors were unsustainable without outside intervention, and these development projects led to continued investments in the current system, rather than a change to it.
Still, groundedness in local ecology, economy, and infrastructure led my interlocutors to incisive critiques of the conditions they endure. Three consecutive seasons of flooding exposed both the precarity of agricultural livelihoods in this region as well as the impossibility of saving money to meet long-term goals. In the final stage of research, seven community members in Mwangaria interviewed over 100 of their elders to illuminate the ways national and international projects have built on one another to further marginalize them. Despite the failure of “development” logics, women in Rural Moshi have continued to engage in strategic aspirational pursuits by working together to assemble community banks and collective businesses, as well as brick and mortar houses. They also recognize that in making these things with others, neighbors and families make themselves, each other, and outsiders to their community into committed and trustworthy collaborators. By working together on group activities, a woman builds her fellow bank members; by sharing in a house construction project, a woman builds her husband. The women’s structural critique of their conditions does not prevent them from actions that make larger changes seem possible, even if the time scale for aspiration is abbreviated.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
anthropology, east africa, women's development, development studies, environmental history, collaborative anthropology, worldmaking
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