Tactical strangers: Mobility, trade, and gendered strangerhood in West Africa

Jónsson, Gunvor (2023). Tactical strangers: Mobility, trade, and gendered strangerhood in West Africa. American Anthropologist, 125(2) pp. 298–309.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/aman.13835


Mande women in West Africa unable or unwilling to conform to patriarchal gender expectations risk being evicted from social and kinship support structures. Some nonconformist women from Mali respond to this predicament by engaging in tactical strangerhood: they choose to remain on the social margins, capitalizing on their situation as strangers by working as foreign traders in Dakar (Senegal). Tactical strangerhood entails only partial inclusion into patriarchal family and social structures and constitutes one of the nonconformist ways in which women in West Africa enact gender roles. Long-distance trade and travel by Mande women have led to new forms of gendered strangerhood, challenging—and potentially transforming—dominant ideologies of gender differentiation in this part of West Africa. By engaging in tactical strangerhood, women develop new forms of gendered subjectivity. Tactical strangerhood can therefore be considered an implicitly feminist and emancipatory exercise.

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