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Slums, Shopping Malls and the Politics of Global Projection: How to Wear a Bubble Wrap Suit in Gaborone, Botswana

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Abstract

Due to Botswana’s phenomenal economic growth since independence, along with its reputation for stable and effective democratic governance, the Southern African nation is regarded as a successful model of development in Africa. Botswana’s achievements are most notable in its capital. Gaborone is home to shopping malls, imported luxury cars, and a wide array of electronic gadgetry. Through consumption, Botswana’s citizenry sees itself as participating in behaviors typically associated with Western-style living. These behaviors represent some of the most conspicuous, and contested, aspects of everyday living. Yet to be examined however, are the motivations structuring everyday fashion and consumption practices in Botswana. What are the social, subjective and political implications of life lived at the level of the epidermal? At the moment of a cyborg-ian blurring of self and accessory? The proposed paper explores these questions by fusing work from the cultural studies canon with recent research on African urban studies. Accordingly, the paper grapples with a range of questions: Who participates in consumer lifestyles in Gaborone? Why is hyper-visible consumption preferred? How does the consumption of fashion and lifestyle create new global identities? How is consumption spatialized, and might it serve as a means of resistance for those at the urban margins? Discovering answers is important in the local context of Gaborone, but also provides insight into the creation and performance of (insurgent) urban citizenships across the developing world. The paper incorporates a diverse body of social science theory while synthesizing information collected over eighteen months of fieldwork in Botswana.