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Modernity Bluff: Crime, Consumption, and Citizenship in Cote d'Ivoire

by Sasha Newell University of Chicago Press
Pub Date:
Hbk 296 pages
AU$212.00 NZ$216.52
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In C\u00f4te d and Atilde;Ivoire, appearing modern is so important for success that many young men deplete their already meager resources to project an illusion of wealth in a fantastic display of Western imitation, spending far more than they can afford on brand name clothing, accessories, technology, and a robust nightlife. Such imitation, however, is not primarily meant to deceive and mdash;rather, as Sasha Newell argues in The Modernity Bluff, it is an explicit performance so valued in C\u00f4te d and Atilde;Ivoire it has become a matter of national pride. Called bluffeurs, these young urban men operate in a system of cultural economy where reputation is essential for financial success. That reputation is measured by familiarity with and access to the fashionable and expensive, which leads to a paradoxical state of affairs in which the wasting of wealth is essential to its accumulation. Using the consumption of Western goods to express their cultural mastery over Western taste, Newell argues, bluffeurs engage a global hierarchy that is profoundly modern, one that values performance over authenticity and shy; and mdash;highlighting the counterfeit nature of modernity itself.

INTRODUCTIONIvoirian Nationalism and Urban Popular CultureYere and Gaou: Authenticity and the Cosmology of ModernitySapeurs and Bluffeurs: Discourses on African MimesisMimesis and Masking: Real Fakes and the Elusive Illusion of ModernityAbidjan: The Urban SettingMethodologyOutline of the Argument
ONE / Enregistering Modernity, Bluffing Criminality: How Nouchi Speech Reinvented the NationLes Nouchis—Speaking of “Gangsters”Loubard, Boss, and Bakroman: Further StereotypesYere and Gaou: Nouchi Hierarchy and ModernityIvoirian Language Policy and the French Model of National IdentityUrban Cultural Integration and the Ivoirianization of FrenchThe Emergence of Nouchi and the Self-Recognition of Ivoirian Popular CultureVicarious Banditry: The Mediation of NouchiPurity and the Perils of Degeneration: Anxious Interpretations of NouchiNouchi and National Identity
TWO / Bizness and “Blood Brothers”: The Moral Economy of CrimeThe Infamy of TreichvilleThe Economic Underpinnings of the Bluff: Illicit yet Moral EconomiesThe Illegitimacy of LaborKinship, Economy, and Gendered SocialityBiznessThe Productivity of Social NetworksThe Normative NetworkState Intervention/State CooperationHierarchical RelationsSocial Accumulation
THREE / Faire le show: Maquis Masculinity and the Performative Success of WasteThe Maquis: Public Space Par ExcellenceImbibing Differentiation: Drinking Establishments and Disdain“Gâte, on est ensemble”: The Trope of Waste“Go Waste It, We are Watching”: Dance and DisplayThe Gift of Bluffing: Exchanges Underlying the “Show”Out on “La Rue”The Dangers of DisplayStreet Rituals: Urban Life Cycle Ceremonies and the MaquisPotlatch and the Production of AudienceMasculinity and the Dangerous Consumption of WomenGender and the Performativity of the Bluff
FOUR / Fashioning Alterity: Masking, Metonymy, and Otherworld OriginsThe Centrality of the SartorialThe Bluff: Appearance and EconomyElite Consumption: Following the FrenchYere Consumers and Urban Symbols of ModernitySuits versus Hip-Hop: Taste and Social HierarchyWhiteness and the Otherworld: A Local Cosmology of ExternalityEvaluating Objects: The Modernity of BrandsAuthentic Imitations, Metonymic TransformationsIvoirian Masquerades and Yere Vision
FIVE / Paris Is Hard like a Rock: Migration and the Spatial Hierarchy of Global RelationsUrban-Village MigrationMigrating DreamsMigratory PracticalitiesThe Descent and the BluffBengiste Networks, Migrant EconomiesDemystification and Remythologizing DiscoursesThe Mediation of the Otherworld: Migration as a Form of ConsumptionMigration and National Identity
SIX / Counterfeit Belongings: Branding the Ivoirian Political CrisisEthnicity, Postcoloniality, and National IdentityIvoirian Models of Nationality: French versus NouchiThe Death of Houphouët and the Emergence of IvoiritéBoubous and the Politics of ExclusionThe Structure of the North-South Divide in Popular CultureBranding the Nation: Cultural Mastery and the Unstable Signification of Authenticity
CONCLUSION / Modernity as BluffOn the Nature of “Western” ImitationOn the Character of (Alternative?) ModernityPostcolonial Mimesis and the Crisis of SignificationIncommensurability: Fetishes, Doubles, and the Fake

''The Modernity Bluff takes its place comfortably with the best writing on African youth, cities, and popular culture - Cole, De Boeck, Mbembe, Nyamanjoh, Simone, Weiss, White - and gives an utterly original angle for understanding the cultural underpinnings of the current conflict in Cote d'Ivoire. Sasha Newell knows both the contemporary and classic Africanist literatures. He also brings to bear a considerable amount of specialist theory to explain the ways the performance of 'bluff,' seemingly a king of consumerist simulacrum, can actually create something out of nothing.'' (Mike McGovern, Yale University)''
Sasha Newell teaches at the College of the Holy Cross.