The social life of miraa : farming, trade, and consumption of a plant stimulant in Kenya
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This thesis traces the paths and trajectories that one substance - the plant stimulant Catha edulis (Forssk.), known in Kenya as 'miraa' - takes in the course of its 'social life' from production, through exchange, to its points of consumption. The thesis attempts to draw out the richness in this social life through an in-depth ethnographic examination of these trajectories, emphasising in particular their socially-embedded nature. By following an approach influenced by the volume The social life of things (Appadurai [ed.] 1986) the thesis is able to tease out much of the significance the substance has for those people who animate its social life. The trajectories covered vary greatly in range, from those involving local consumption in the area in which it is grown - the Nyambene Hills district of Kenya - to those that take it thousands of miles away to Europe and North America. The vast range of the substance allows for the generation of many different meanings and associations, and many of these are brought out over the course of the thesis. The trade of the substance (trade that relies much on trust) and its consumption are seen as in many ways socially cohesive, while in other respects socially divisive: while substances like miraa can build bridges, they can also build fences. Of especial importance to the thesis is the character of Nicholas, whose relationship with miraa demonstrates how individuals can take on board shared meanings concerning a substance, whilst creating many new meanings of their own through processes of convergence and divergence. The study addresses both the significance of miraa and its social life for wider debates in anthropology and its significance within the lives of farmers, traders, and consumers, and anyone engaged in debating its merits.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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