Week 4 – Neoliberalism Revisited: Entrepreneurship, Consumerism and Global Capital

This week we are looking at the topics of entrepreneurship, consumerism and global capital and were required to read a number of different articles that looked at the commoditization of African societies and the impacts of neoliberalism.

In the required reading by Rebekah Lee, the author discusses the exploitation of death by funeral entrepreneurs in South Africa. With the increasing death rates caused by the spread of HIV/AIDS in the area, the commoditization of burial practices has become a lucrative business for some South African entrepreneurs. This article looks specifically at the role of mobility in the movement of South Africans from rural to urban areas and how this has influenced the moral and material economies of death and how they are navigated by mourning family members and communities as a whole.

The article Skin Lighteners, Black Consumers and Jewish Entrepreneurs in South Africa by Lynn Thomas tells the story of the Krok brothers and their role as entrepreneurs in Johannesburg, South Africa. The irony of this story is that the brothers used the wealth accumulated by their skin-lightening business to fund the development of an Apartheid Museum to memorialize the racialized atrocities that occurred during the South African apartheid. On a deeper level, the author discusses the role of the apartheid in the growth of consumption and economic opportunities as well as the racialized undertones that continue to influence South African societies and how for some people, such as the Krok brothers, taking advantage of these opportunities has led to the questioning of their ethical and moral grounds.

In the paper Gugulethu: Revolution for Neoliberalism in a South African Township the author looks at the impact that neoliberalism is having on the post-apartheid city of Cape Town, South Africa through the development of the new Gugulethu mall. Through this case study, the author considers the relationship between malls and revolutions by examining how the revolutionary nostalgia of the apartheid was used by urban developers to promote consumerism. However, despite the effort to promote the mall as an emblem of African pride and roots, the community did not accept it as the neoliberalized project that it was.

Lastly, the article Capital’s New Frontier by Catherine Dolan and Kate Roll, which looked at the idea of ‘inclusive’ capitalism and economic initiatives that focus on those at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP) so to speak. I found this article particularly interesting in the way that it outlined how social circumstances such as female menstruation or general hygiene are commoditized by companies who promote their products as the philanthropic solutions to these problems by associating them with social issues such as the lack of attendance of girls in school or high infant mortality rates. The article continues to discuss how those at the BoP are targeted for these products and developed into ‘aspirational consumers’ or ‘market actors’ and then turned into entrepreneurs to sell the products themselves within their communities. Overall, this article largely questions how companies construct and normalize poverty as a field for business intervention by problematizing social circumstances in an effort to establish a consumer basis.

When thinking about these articles, common themes of entrepreneurship and commoditization emerged, as well as the role of local people in economic initiatives and development in Africa. I found it interesting how these articles showed evidence of the complicated reality of local-ownership and bottom-up approaches to economic development as well as how local people are taking advantage of the informal economy and questions whether the informal economy is taking advantage of them.

– M. Thwaites (110305660)

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