March 09, 2009

Moved to

I have two blogs - up to this moment that is. I am closing the site here and moving the content to my other blog -

When I started blogging here I thought I would make this my anthropology blog, a place to discuss anthropology issues with fellow anthropologists, and a place where I could actually blog as Olumide Abimbola. When I started blogging in 2005 I simply started blogging as loomnie and I have been reluctant to change it. When the idea to blog as an anthropologist came up I decided that it was a good opportunity to blog with my real name. I have now decided to leave my name on the about page of

There is actually something about blogging as oneself; there is that certain something that anonymity takes away from one. For one, there is a measure of self-censorship that comes from wanting to maintain anonymity. Once that is gone one can blog as oneself without actually worrying too much about being outed. Or at least that is how I think of it in my own case.

Therefore, this blog moves to, and all the posts will be exported there as well. NativeAnthropologist still remains here, and all the posts I had here are still available. Only that the most recent one will be this notification that it has been moved.

I hope I see you all over at

January 25, 2009

In the UK

I am currently in the UK, learning about the textile recycling industry in the country. I have finally got a tentative outline written out, with a summary of what will be in each chapter. The third chapter is going to be about the source of the goods. I look at how the goods are sourced in the UK, what happens to them while they are in the UK, and the human interactions that surround their handling. Remember, my work is on Igbo trade networks that stretch from West Africa to the UK, but the third chapter will necessarily include many more people than the Igbo. At the end of the day, what draws them together is used clothing, or more precisely the trade in used clothing. Reminds anybody of ANT?

January 04, 2009

Freakonomics on Gifting

Happy 2009!! I promise that this year will see me doing more on this blog.

I am just getting home after a few days away. Things seem to be firing up in my brain, and tomorrow I will find out how really fired up the brain is.

Before I left I read a post on the Freakonomics blog over at the New York Times website. I probably should say that I have been dallying more and more with economics these days; for instance, my reading list for the holiday included Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, and Milton Friedman's Free to Choose. I finished the former and I am still reading the latter. It seemed only fair to read from the accused before I file behind Ms Klein - if I file behind her.

Anyway, back to Freakonomics. One of the bloggers, Justin Wolfers, wrote a post that got my economic anthropological feelers out. Mr Wolfers was wondering why buying and gift-wrapping a CD made the gift more real than if he had bought the MP3 format on iTunes and transfered the property rights to the giftee. This becomes an issue for him, especially since he knows that the person would probably simply convert the CD to MP3 files, and probably never listen to the CD itself. He wondered why it seemed that physical gift felt more real than the gifts of bytes. His question:

What explains our schizophrenic attitude toward the invisible economy? We embrace the flow of bits and bytes in our daily lives, but we feel reluctant to give them as gifts.

I have checked the comments on the post but I did not see anybody who actually mentioned the anthropological idea of gifts. Now, I am wondering whether anybody has ever thought to bring Marcel Mauss to the 21st century, and to look at the kind of issue Mr Wolfers raises through his lens. I would appreciate it if anybody could point to this kind of work.

(Please see the full post and comments here.)

December 29, 2008

Interview with Alice Cobert

This is an interview that I think we all should read!

Hat-tip to the Culture Matters guys.

December 17, 2008

Trying to start writing up

It has been a couple of months since I got back from fieldwork. Shortly after getting back I headed off to Chicago for the Africa Studies Association meeting to present a paper. It was really nice to be there, although my presentation was really preliminary as I had not had time for any serious or meaningful analysis.

Now that the fieldwork is over it is time for me to write an anthropological study. I have been trying to make the chapterisation, and when i finish with that II will draw up a timetable. I must say that it is not going too smoothly at the moment, but I realise that the choices I make in the chapterisation are really important so I am trying to take my time.

That is what has been happening.

November 21, 2008

Patron-Client Relations among Igbo Migrant Traders in Cotonou

I have again been away for a while. I got back to Germany and had to almost immediately start working on a conference paper. Last week I was in Chicago for the annual meeting of the African Studies Association. The abstract of the paper I presented is below.

Anthropologists of economic relations are well experienced in dealing with the deployment of informal relationships by economic actors. These informal relations are often based on kinship ties and patron client relations. The paper aims to examine a particular manifestation of a mixture of both kinship relations and patron client relations. Rather than starting off with any assumptions about the relationship between these relations, or discussing the functions they serve, the paper aims to describe the relations among Igbo migrant traders in Cotonou. The trade in used clothing in the Republic of Benin is not just dominated by Igbo migrants, but almost all of the traders are from one local government area of Abia state in Nigeria. Looking briefly at the history of the trade in used clothing in Lome and Cotonou, the paper presents an examination that shows the way a specific expression of patron client relations is structured. It describes the modes of recruitment of clients by masters who are often owners of big used clothing businesses; it also describes the way the relationship between the Master and the Boy, or very often Boys, is structured. The paper draws from a year-long ethnographic fieldwork on the informal trade in used clothing between Nigeria and Benin.

October 23, 2008

Krugman, Social Science and Methods

From a post written by Kerim Friedman at Savage Minds, I learnt that Paul Krugman, this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, had reposted an autobiographical piece he wrote in 1992 on his blog. I went over there and got the piece. After reading it many things came to mind, a lot of which has been dealt with at the Savage Minds post (also see the comments). One thing that jumped out was Krugman's interest in the 'suggestive special cases'. Hear him::

The process works like this: start with an informal verbal story, often one drawn from casual empiricism or from non-mainstream economic literature. Then try to build the simplest possible model that will illustrate that story. In the course of the model-building the story tends to change along with your intuition, but at the end of the process you have a simple model that is a very special case, but that makes a lot of intuitive sense and effectively gives you a language to discuss things that previously were off limits.

I could not resist comparing this to what anthropologists do, not when he wrote that he liked working from 'suggestive special cases'. It seems, however, as if the interest in case studies is where any similarities end. I thought about the problem with model building. I know that the issues we deal with as anthropologists are certainly different from the issues economists deal with, but I still can't shake off the urge to call attention to my feeling that anthropologists don't quite like models. It seems like we most often seek to complicate things, to add more 'variables' to the mix, because we understand too well how difficult it is to ascribe causality. In other words, Krugman's goal of searching for the simple model is almost the direct opposite of what anthropologists do.

I remember discussing, recently, with a colleague who thinks that anthropologists let themselves be held back by too much detail, so much so that they are unable to contribute so much to policy formulation. I guess this post comes partly as a result of that discussion.

Comments please!