Empire's New Clothes: Undressing Neoliberal Development Through the Lens of African Print Textiles/Dress
Warritay, Olajumoke Thokozile
This project uses an industrial textile called African print as a lens into neoliberal capitalist development in the context of Ghana. African print was adapted from Javanese batik by Dutch imperialists, and supplied to markets in West and Central Africa starting in the mid-1800s. In the 1960s, the textile became the lynchpin of industrialization efforts in Ghana, and African print dress styles emerged as symbols of Black pride and resistance to cultural colonialism. In the eighties, textiles manufacturing in Ghana witnessed perceptible declines with the introduction of neoliberal policies and projects. The once nationally prized industry faltered in the face of competition from more capitalized producers in the world market. While obviously critical, this focus on declining manufacturing reproduces a common, one-dimensional story of the wide-ranging changes that have refashioned African societies in the last decades. The trend in development studies has been to overlook profound transformations in African consumption: from the growth of retail infrastructure and practices, to the consolidation of capital and power in consumer markets, and the evolving significance of global brands in social life. I examine African print markets in relation to the state, and competition between ‘local’, ‘cheap’, and ‘luxury’ brands manufactured in Ghana, China, and Holland, respectively. I argue for a relational approach that situates production and consumption within the same analytic field, and enables a richer understanding of the dynamics of neoliberal development in Ghana. Tracing threads of print textiles uncovers the ongoing legacy of colonialism in neoliberal markets, and the remaking of socio-cultural meaning by multinational capital and the neoliberal state. Importantly, print dress markets involve a range of garment producers, including informal workers in makeshift ateliers, small-scale entrepreneurs, and luxury fashion labels. With varying degrees of market power, artisanal crafts industries transform uncut fabric into custom-fit clothing. In the intimate exchange of ideas and services between textiles consumers and tailors lies the possibility of local advantage and promise; creativity is unleashed as the black body is dressed in confidence and style. While illuminating neoliberal transformations in Ghana, the lens of African print highlights broader patterns of socio-cultural change and capitalist development.
Development; Sociology; African print; Dress; Fashion; Ghana; Neoliberalism; African history
Makki, Fouad M.
Greene, Sandra; Byfield, Judith A.
PHD of Development Sociology
Doctor of Philosophy
dissertation or thesis