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Jennifer Johnson-Hanks
Department of Geography
University of California Berkeley

Women in and on the market: marriage, consumption and the internet in urban Cameroon

"Why chose an African woman?... With their shy smiles and traditional values, African women are by their nature family-oriented, resourceful, and are highly devoted wives." (www.afrointroductions.com, accessed March 3, 2003) "I am a modern girl…" (Site-web of "Jeanne," a 23-year old from Cameroon, from the same site) "Je suis une fille moderne" writes a young Cameroonian woman in an internet personals ad. The assertion is at once self-evident and incomprehensible, and as we read further, the questions multiply. This modern girl is seeking a Francophone, European husband through the internet, her modernity printed in bold under her photograph, like a title. What does being "modern " mean to her, and how has she learned it? This paper examines what young Cameroonian women in and around Yaoundé mean when they claim to be modern, and why it is so important to them, focusing on some of the media and institutions that instruct them in that modernity: television and internet, school, and supermarkets. At issue here are consumption, modernisme, and pedagogy, or more precisely, the relationships between these three. I argue that the modernity claimed by young, urban Cameroonian women arises centrally out of their relationships to consumption and consumer products, relationships that are explicitly pedagogical. For the modern girl in Yaoundé, the supermarche and cyberkiosk are key loci of social identity, and thus the pedagogy of modern subjectivity is distributed over a variety of institutions. This suggests a second argument, subordinate to the first, that the apparently obvious association of the "modern" with the "global" is, at best, uneasy. For the "yoyettes" of Yaoundé, modern consumption almost always means the consumption of imported products, styles, and media. Yet, the motivations and evaluations of the "modern girl" are deeply grounded in a local history, and--perhaps more importantly--much of the "tradition" that the yoyettes reject is no less imported, no less global than are their modernities.
October 15, 2003
12:00 pm
Royce Hall 314

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