Consumer Tribes And Traditional Tribes That Consume: An Exploratory Study Of Kenyan Tribes’ Consumption Practices Within A Modernising Tribal Society

Michuki, Gidraph Mungai (2020). Consumer Tribes And Traditional Tribes That Consume: An Exploratory Study Of Kenyan Tribes’ Consumption Practices Within A Modernising Tribal Society. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00011b8e

Abstract

By exploring traditional tribes’ consumption practices within a modernising tribal society, this thesis identifies and examines how tribal customs are embodied and used to affirm tribal identities in Kenya. This thesis explores how and why consumption is used to express individual and collective conformity to tribal customs.

A theory-building ethnographic approach was adopted, utilising three months of multi-method data collection in Kenya and a 12-month online study. 26 semi-structured face-to-face interviews were undertaken in Kenya (male N = 16 and female N = 10).

The findings indicate that embodiment of tribal customs happens amongst coalescing consumers who share a regard for their tribal identities. This study reveals selective sociality through what I refer to as tribes-constituted consumption assemblages (TCAs), where individual and collective re-interpretation and re-enactment of what it means to be a tribal person happens. For example, the emergence of women-only TCAs where gender stereotypes are challenged whilst re-interpreting and renegotiating women’s social position within a patriarchal tribal society, and pan-tribal TCAs that shared a passion for economic capital, re-interpreting, bridging and subsuming historical tribal rivalries. This thesis reveals how consumers use tribal gatherings to conspicuously display their tribal practices, consequently acquiring cultural capital from discerning others. Acquired tribal cultural capital is then used to negotiate for social recognition within TCAs and wider Kenyan society where the tribe holds special meanings.

The shared allure for re-creating tribal customs from a long-established past, acts as the linking value for TCA members. However, unlike the Western derived consumer tribes where the ‘linking value’ is a mutual passion for marketplace goods, TCAs are linked by their mutual belief in tribal identities, and, their shared passion for re-creating tribal customs to tackle imagined threats to tribal authenticity from modernisation.

This thesis concludes that tribal identities are perpetually generative, and consumerism plays a vital role in evolving tribalism.

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