Deviance and change as a work on existing customs

Deviance and change as a work on existing customs

I confess I found this text confusing at times and I don’t fully share the same interpretation Maia Green has of Ferguson’s work on the copper belt. After all, Ferguson (1999) shows us that different groups mobilize different narratives, scripts and resources, and opt for different paths in face of socioeconomic transformations. In his words, these groups have different expectations of modernity. So, no rigid and “strict cultural frame”. Yet Professor Green goes right to the point when she criticizes the rather common reduction of all change in low income countries to exogenous factors, interpreted in the “target” societies of programs of structural adjustment as crises. Even more important is her challenge to the notion that customs are hindrances to change. A notion that could bridge scholars of culture and institutions from different fields is that, more often than not, customs enable transformations (our cultural and social institutions mediate the reception and interpretation of novelty). The story here is that practices and social categories are sufficiently flexible to allow for novel forms of organization (so, not all countries are Algeria apud Bourdieu). In this way, transformation does not necessarily mean the crisis of long-standing customs and practices. In her account, taken from Guyer’s (2004) research on monetary transactions in Western Africa,

Narratives of moral economy, frequently articulated through enactments of purported tradition, commonly become instruments of the very kind of structural transformation anthropologists critique

To go Polanyian, I would say that new institutions and processes are embedded in entrenched cultural and social practices. And I might add, returning to an insight that I take from the quickly dismissed Ferguson: interpretations of customs and purported traditions, on the one side, and representations of the novel institutions, on the other, are not unanimous but disputed by agents with different expectations. 

Professor Green shows with her work on Tanzania that these national and international programmes of structural adjustment are not the sole source of social and economic transformation in developing countries, but also that they might actually hinder it. In other words, land-grabing by foreigners or any process supposedly initiated in the centre of capitalism is just part of the problem .


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