Shea Butter Republic: State Power, Global Markets, and the Making of an Indigenous Commodity

Brenda Chalfin

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Paperback (320 pages)



Editorial Description

Indigenous to the savanna zone in West Africa, shea (butyrospermin parkii) has been produced and sold by rural women and circulated on the world market as a low-priced and little-known raw material for more than a century. Locally, shea butter is used for cooking, making soap, leatherworking, dying, and as a medical and beauty aid. Globally, it has been used in producing soaps, candles, margarine, and most significantly, as a substitute for cocoa butter in chocolate production. In the past decade, however, shea has come to occupy a new position at the cutting edge of global capitalism. Now sold in exclusive shops as a high-priced cosmetic and medicinal product, it caters to the desire of cosmopolitan customers worldwide for luxury and exotic self-indulgence.This ethnographic study traces shea from a pre- to post-industrial commodity to provide a deeper understanding of emerging trends in tropical commoditization, cosmopolitan consumption, global economic restructuring and rural livelihoods. Chalfin challenges the widely held assumption that globalization makes state institutions and authority unnecessary and also undercuts the neo-liberal argument that streamlining state operations yields greater efficiency and accountability. Also inlcludes seven maps.