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The Impact of Electricity: Development, Desires and Dilemmas

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The Impact of Electricity

Development, Desires and Dilemmas

Tanja Winther

274 pages, 16 ills, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-84545-495-1 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (September 2008)

ISBN  978-1-84545-292-6 $29.95/£23.95 Pb Published (November 2010)

eISBN 978-0-85745-063-0 eBook

Hb Pb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Buy the eBook! $29.95 Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


“…an excellent book that speaks to readers in different fields including development, anthropology, and technology. The author presents a very readable and enjoyable anthropological analysis of the electrification of the semiautonomous state of Zanzibar within the United Republic of Tanzania…Most importantly, the book presents clear evidence that the implementation of electricity in development processes cannot be simply considered a technological issue that can be addressed by top-down development strategies.”  ·  Regions and Cohesion

"Partly the report of a development project, partly an ethnography, and partly a discourse on development anthropology, [this book] is a fascinating and significant work…an informative and thought-provoking book. Its nuanced discussions of electrification’s effects on Uroans are a valuable empirical contribution to studies of technological change."  ·  American Anthropologist

"Tanja Winther's excellent study clearly shows the insights anthropological analysis brings to understanding development investments, even ones which might be thought to be purely technical in nature. Anyone responsible for designing, implementing or managing rural electrification programs in Africa, is strongly advised to read this book"  ·  Howard White, Executive Director, 3ie


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.

Tanja Winther has a Masters in Power Engineering and a Doctorate in Social Anthropology. She is at the Centre for Development and the Environment (SUM) at the University of Oslo.

Subject: Development Studies Anthropology (General)
Area: Africa


List of illustrations
List of abbreviations

Chapter 1: Introduction
Towards an anthropology of energy
Addressing development
Research questions
The choice of an untypical village
Electricity matters
What sort of good is electricity?
Fieldwork and ethical considerations
Learning ‘the art of conversation’
An outline of the book

Chapter 2: Powers of the past
The people and the place
The colonial period
The post-revolution era

Chapter 3: The Rural Electrification Project (RUREL)
Objectives: improve health facilities, create modern villagers and ensure Zanzibar’s future income
The impact of international environmental discourses
Political difficulties: the project interrupted
Public services dramatically improved
Household connections, tourism and productivity
A summary of the immediate effects of electricity’s arrival

Chapter 4: Electrifying Uroa
Uroa becomes connected
The significance of a meal
A passion for meetings
Women’s limited role in the process
Creativity and capability – participation practised
The limits to local control
Finding equivalence
Explaining conflict and resistance
Development as a political matter

Chapter 5: Discourses of development
Unreliable markets
The generation of money in Uroa
Education as an icon of development
Religious, modern Zanzibar
Television Zanzibar (TVZ)
Towards increasing difference

Chapter 6: The electricity company in the village
Linked to the developed world
Entering private space
Measuring proper behaviour
Payment time: humbleness and resistance
The consumption of electricity: a high awareness of the cost
Problems caused by the accounting system
Striving to behave like modern customers

Chapter 7: Uroa by night
Light as a marker of power
The aesthetics of darkness
Security light
Demographic changes, men, and their houses
Speeding up life – consequence and ideal?
Uroa transformed

Chapter 8: Introducing objects of desire
Strategies for obtaining electrical appliances
Women’s wealth
Explaining women’s exclusion from the ownership of appliances
Putting yourself at risk
Normalisation: balancing equality and difference

Chapter 9: Reorganising interior space
Relaxing in Uroa
The home as a stage
Reorganising space and social relationships
Encapsulating the family

Chapter 10: Negotiating tastes in food
Cooking with electricity
Zanzibari tastes
Food as a social marker
A cook’s technologies and concerns
Taste and conflicting discourses
Food and body
Tastes at rest, tastes in flux

Chapter 11: Electricity makes a difference
What does electricity promise?
Electric networks in their creation
Electrification and human well-being
Environmentally sustainable development
Are kinship relations losing significance?
Negotiating gender relationships
Electrified worries and the need to get in control
‘You don’t tell someone with a bike to buy himself a car!’

Glossary of Swahili terms
Archival sources (Zanzibar National Archives)

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