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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:The social life of paraffin: gender, domesticity and the politics of value in a South African township
Author:Bank, LeslieISNI
Year:1997
Periodical:African Studies
Volume:56
Issue:2
Pages:157-179
Language:English
Geographic term:South Africa
Subjects:women
energy resources
urban households
Agriculture, Natural Resources and the Environment
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Urbanization and Migration
Cultural Roles
Family Life
Marital Relations and Nuptiality
External link:https://doi.org/10.1080/00020189708707873
Abstract:The standard explanation for paraffin preference in poor urban communities in South Africa is that it is a cost-effective domestic fuel. In Duncan Village, East London, where paraffin is implicated directly in the destruction of thousands of homes by fire, this type of reasoning is difficult to sustain. In order to unravel the paradox of paraffin in Duncan Village, it is necessary to move beyond the limitations of neoclassical economic models of consumer behaviour. Applying A. Appadurai's (1986) ideas on the 'politics of value', the author examines the social dominance of paraffin in Duncan Village, paying specific attention to the meanings attached to it and the 'social paths' that it follows within specific circuits of exchange. Paraffin as a domestic fuel is a highly gendered commodity. Paraffin symbolizes women's responsibilities as mothers and homemakers. Women perceive it as a functional and necessary part of their lives. At the same time they are well aware of the power of paraffin as a social lubricant in their domestic and neighbourhood support networks. Paraffin is used to keep men out of women's business and can be manipulated to mystify household budgeting and resource allocation. It allows women to exert tremendous pressure on male earnings. While men approve of the ways in which paraffin as a fuel manufactures female domesticity, they are suspicious of women's involvement in the extrahousehold networks which paraffin supports and maintains. Bibliogr., notes, ref.
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