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The Impact of Electricity

The Impact of Electricity: Development, Desires and Dilemmas

Tanja Winther
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 274
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  • Book Info
    The Impact of Electricity
    Book Description:

    How does everyday life change when electricity becomes available to a group of people for the first time? Why do some groups tend to embrace this icon of development while other groups actively fight against it? This book examines the effects of electricity's arrival in an African, rural community. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Zanzibar at different points in time, the author provides a compelling account of the social implications in question. The rhythm of life changes and life is speeding up. Sexuality and marriage patterns are affected. And a range of social relations, e.g. between generations and genders, as well as relations between human beings and spirits, become modified. Despite men and women's general appreciation of the new services electricity provides, new dilemmas emerge. By using electricity as a guide through the social landscape, the particularities of social and cultural life in this region emerge. Simultaneously, the book invites readers to understand the ways that electricity affects and becomes implicated in our everyday life.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-063-0
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. List of abbreviations
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Chapter 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-21)

    The gradual evolution of electricity has historically provided societies with a means for using energy in a multitude of ways. Electricity not only conditioned rapid industrialisation and economic growth in many parts of the world in the past century but also continues to play a crucial role in various aspects of everyday life throughout the world today. We do not have to adopt a neo-evolutionary theory of human development to acknowledge the significance of energy and electricity. However, it is important to question how, and in what sense, energy matters.

    Today 1.6 billion people, mainly in South Asia and sub-Saharan...

  7. Chapter 2 Powers of the past
    (pp. 22-48)

    Zanzibar is a semi-autonomous state within the United Republic of Tanzania. Situated in the Indian Ocean off the coast of mainland Tanzania, Zanzibar consists of the two islands Unguja and Pemba and some smaller islets. Approximately one million people inhabit the islands. The polity’s administrative and commercial centre is Zanzibar Town, located on the west coast of Unguja. The village of Uroa lies on the opposite side of the island.

    Zanzibar forms part of what tends to be known as the ‘Swahili community’ that stretches along the East African coast from Somalia to Mozambique. The first Swahili settlements are said...

  8. Chapter 3 The Rural Electrification Project (RUREL)
    (pp. 49-64)

    This extract is taken from the General Manager’s speech during the handing-over ceremony for Phase II of the Rural Electrification Project in Zanzibar (RUREL). The President of Zanzibar, several Ministers, Members of the House of Representatives, the Norwegian Ambassador and other prominent guests were present. Tents were put up for the large crowd that had been invited. We all sat on chairs while listening to the various representatives making their speeches. A brass band had started the ceremony, and there was an atmosphere of accomplishment and joy. The event marked the completion of Phase II and the handing-over of the...

  9. Chapter 4 Electrifying Uroa
    (pp. 65-83)

    Two men involved in the process provided me with this story eleven years later. In 1991 I had also heard about the incident but in less elaborate detail. The purpose and sequence of the protection ritual remained the same, however. Apparently the problem had started when two local healers were visited by certain ‘bad people’ (watu wabaya) in the village. By then village leaders were making plans for the arrival of electricity. The bad people had asked them to perform harmful rituals against electrification by calling down evil spirits (mashetani wabaya). However, refusing to do such a thing, the healers...

  10. Chapter 5 Discourses of development
    (pp. 84-103)

    I did not observe this incident but the episode was afterwards vividly commented on and condemned by men and women in Uroa. The reactions seemed to capture a widespread feeling that ‘tourists have no shame but there is nothing we can do about it’. In 1991 there were many critical remarks related to the arrival of tourism. An Italian hotel in Uroa was causing considerable frustration at the time. However, these days, people in general appear less preoccupied with the negative influence of tourism. The foreigners’ presence seems to be accepted. As people in Uroa tend to say: ‘we have...

  11. Chapter 6 The electricity company in the village
    (pp. 104-128)

    An old lady had a wildly running electricity meter. On one of his regular rounds in April 2001, Baomar went to her house. I accompanied him on this round. The customer’s meter stated that the consumption last month had been nine times (227 units) more than what an average household uses. The woman’s arrears had risen to far beyond Tsh.100,000 (US$125). After Baomar had left the house the woman asked me, whispering, if I could explain this high use. She had five bulbs and used her freezer only occasionally, she said. When becoming a customer for the first time, she...

  12. Chapter 7 Uroa by night
    (pp. 129-147)

    At night-time, if you were to return to Zanzibar and observe the east coast of Unguja from above in a plane, there would be long stretches of nothing but darkness. Depending on the moon, and with the help of kerosene lamps indicating human settlements, you might be able to make out the coastline. What would not escape your attention would be the halogen floodlights that light up a number of hotels along the coast. Tourism is certainly visible at night and demonstrates its influence in this indiscrete manner. However, not far from the hotels, you would also see several villages...

  13. Chapter 8 Introducing objects of desire
    (pp. 148-167)

    Women and men in Uroa give quite specific answers when asked why they have obtained electricity, lamps, freezers, TV sets and so on. For example, they want to be able to read at night, to do business (e.g., produce frozen, sweet ice) or to get information and entertainment. Some also refer directly to the importance of ‘moving with the times’, thus linking electrical appliances directly to the development discourse. We have come to understand how this discourse gains impetus in the present and why current processes lead to an intensified focus on the objects in question. First of all, ‘electricity...

  14. Chapter 9 Reorganising interior space
    (pp. 168-187)

    The opportunity to relax or rest (pumzika) is emphasised in rural Zanzibar as part of the ‘good life’ (maisha mazuri). Resting is contrasted with work (kazi) and the oscillation between the two conditions makes up a particular rhythm. The repeated articulation of these opposing notions does not imply that their contents and meanings are unequivocal. People’s use of ‘rest’ and ‘work’ rather reflects a relative comparison of two distinct states of being, often involving a shift from one to the other. In the forest, for instance, the expression ‘let’s go home’ (twende zetu,lit. ‘let’s go to our place’) indicates...

  15. Chapter 10 Negotiating tastes in food
    (pp. 188-216)

    One of the two families in Uroa who keep electric cookers (coil element type) agreed to show me how the appliance is used. I was to visit this house regularly for a month and watch Asha cook. In return, I would pay the electricity bill for that period. Her husband Muhamadi was present during our initial conversations and he was the one who answered most of my questions. Here is an extract from one of our first talks. The three of us were sitting in their living room (corridor type) and the front door giving on to the road was...

  16. Chapter 11 Electricity makes a difference
    (pp. 217-240)

    In the preceding chapters we have followed electricity’s historical and spatial trajectories in Zanzibar. What we have encountered is the technology’s multiple interconnections with the dense fabric of social life. Its introduction has been advocated, contested, ignored and approved by distinctly positioned protagonists. Its uses are negotiated and selected. Some of the services electricity provides are objects of desire (illuminated space and TV programmes) while others are less relevant (electric cookers). These choices are socio-culturally and economically conditioned and are the result of negotiations. They have not only reinforced some power relations (villager–state, have’s–have-not’s) but have also produced...

  17. Glossary of Swahili terms
    (pp. 241-242)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 243-252)
  19. Index
    (pp. 253-256)