Neoliberalism revisited: Entrepreneurship, Consumerism, and Global Capital

Keira Gagne

This weeks readings focus on the concept of neoliberalism in African countries. The articles discussed issues of consumerism in a globalized world. These articles were interesting to read because it was interesting to learn about how capitalism can drastically impact social relations in a country.

Thomas’ article discusses the social relations between Black consumers and Jewish entrepreneurs in South Africa both during the Apartheid and afterwards. The article discusses the skin lightening venture of entrepreneurs Abraham and Solomon Krok. Thomas explores the history of skin lighteners and the changing demographic and reasons for purchasing this product. Thomas also mentions whether or not it is appropriate for businessmen who were born into a Jewish immigrant family to market to Black consumers. The Kroks’ relationships with Black consumers led them to dominate the skin lightening industry. However, Thomas discusses how the Kroks’ brand image changed once they encouraged consumers to follow dangerous directions such as using multiple lightening products.  Thomas claims that the Kroks’ are attempting to improve their reputation through providing financial support to an Apartheid museum.

Lee’s article discusses the entrepreneurs in the funeral industry who are benefiting from ongoing epidemics in South Africa.  She discusses three main issues with the funeral industry. First Lee discusses mobility. She discusses how different funeral practices causes debates regarding ensuring cultural practices are followed. The second issue Lee expresses is that African countries are becoming more westernized. The third issue is the lack of women’s involvement in funeral practices and industry. According to Lee, entrepreneurs take advantage of the epidemics in African countries.

Reflection Question

1. After reading Rebekah Lee’s article “Death on the Move: Funerals, Entrepreneurs, and the rural-urban nexus in South Africa,” is the burgeoning funeral industry in South Africa a result of the expanding global economy or the ongoing epidemics in the country such as HIV/Aids as discussed in Lee’s article? Is this a response to serious health concerns occurring in South Africa? Should there be more emphasis on treating these epidemics instead of providing more for the actual funerals?

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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)

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

Jessica Slade- 110232060

For the purposes of this week’s blog post, I will be responding to the work of Thomas, Teppo & Houssay-Holzshuch as and Lee. The theme of this week is neoliberalism in Africa. As a global studies class we know neoliberalism to be rooted in the “liberal ideas of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, both of whom view the market as a self-regulating mechanism tending toward equilibrium, of supply and demand, thus securing the most efficient allocation of resources, (Steger, 2009, pg. 40). In knowing this basic definition we are able to see how entrepreneurship, consumerism and global capital play out in this weeks selected readings.

Lynn M. Thomas wrote the work, “Skin Lighteners, Black Consumers and Jewish Entrepreneurs in South Africa,” which speaks to the growing marked of skin lightening products in South Africa. The Krok bothers have capitalized off the growing consumer-based market, since the end of the Second World War. In studying this ‘transnational history of skin lighteners’ we become exposed to political landscapes influenced by gender and race that have come out of this movement. In an attempt to physically demonstrate the internalized pressures of ‘white’ colonizers, the movement towards skin lightening creams and their harmful uses shows just how distorted the image of skin-color as a power symbol has become. The social location of the brothers (white Jewish males), was used to further their place in the market. After the fall of the apartheid, the business venture was under much scrutiny and the brothers sponsored many local movements in hopes of strengthening their place in the community. While there are many justifications around arguments which suggest westernization has benefited various societies, we are also now becoming exposed to the harmful effects felt long after the colonization has slowed. This work has brought to my attention just how influential people in positions of power can be. Outside of Africa, do we see this movement towards an ‘ideal’ state of being here in Canada? What about the influence that the cosmetic industry has had in creating a stereotypical image of what a man or woman should look like? Does plastic surgery and artificial enhancement/ reduction procedures fall under this category of exploitation used for economic gain? Do we make informed choices, or is the neoliberal market base created in a way distorts the type of decisions that we can make- based on how value is allocated? (Thomas 2012)

Rebekah Lee wrote the work “Death ‘On the Move’: Funerals, Entrepreneurs and the Rural-Urban Nexus in South Africa” which speaks to the growing sector associated with burial and funeral practices in South Africa. As innovations change and new technological methods are being introduced, it makes sense that this would begin to influence the space of ‘death’ in society. In this work we begin to see how people do not necessarily fear death, but fear dying away from home. While I had never considered how methods of burials could be enhanced or altered through processes of urbanization. It is interesting to see how Lee explains these people in a way that brings justification to their work, and not as a means of exploitation, as they are working to help aid in the process of mourning and burials- even for those who are on the move (including the folding coffins, transportation- through trucks and trailers etc.). Often these entrepreneurs travel from the rural to the urban centers, thus creating this cultural nexus and mixing; in order to meet the needs of their client base. What other aspects of society do we see innovation and economic gain being created through medium of technological advancement? What makes this type of capitalization exploitative or not?

Annika Teppo and Myriam Houssay-Holzshuch wrote the last article read this week entitled, “Gugulethu: revolution for neoliberalism in a South African Township.” This work speaks to the inherent center of economic gain- the shopping mall found in Guglethu Square. Examined from two levels, the work fully explained the layers that are present within the historical and neo-liberal narrative present in Cape Town. In reflecting on what a shopping mall represents, we can understand what the authors are saying when they speak to the ever growing and diversified consumerist population who would shop at the center. In working to create an environment that appeals to all of the consumers, the social, economic and cultural based planning are all instrumental in achieving a population who receive the structure positively. All moves need to be calculated in a way that localizes and ‘grounds’ a movement towards a neoliberal ‘revolution’. Top-down decision have worked against the local populations and created a space for opposition of development. How do you think businesses structures like those mentioned in this work directly and indirectly affect the lives of local individuals? What types of generational shifts do you think will be felt by the changing neoliberal business models?