Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women

Commodification, Consumption, and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe

Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women

Body, Commodity, Text

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Book Pages: 312 Illustrations: 20 b&w photographs Published: May 1996

Author: Timothy Burke

African Studies, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies

How do people come to need products they never even knew they wanted? How, for example, did indigenous Zimbabweans of the 1940s begin to believe that they required Lifebuoy soap? Offering a glimpse into the intimate workings of modern colonialism and global capitalism, Timothy Burke takes up these questions in Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women, a study of post-World War II commodity culture in Zimbabwe.
With particular attention to cosmetic products and the contrast between colonial and pre-colonial ideas of cleanliness, Burke examines the role played by commodity culture, changing patterns of consumption, and the spread of advertising in the making of modern Zimbabwe. His work combines history, anthropology, and political economy to show how the development of commodification in the region relates to the social history of hygiene. Within this framework, and drawing on a wide variety of historical sources, Burke explores dense interactions between commodity culture and embodied aspects of race, gender, sexuality, domesticity, health, and aesthetics in a colonial society. Rather than viewing the production of needs simply as an imposition from above, Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women shows what heterogeneous and complex processes, involving the aims and histories of both colonizers and colonized, produced these changes in Zimbabwean society.
Integrating political economy, cultural studies, and a wide range of the social sciences, Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women will find readers among scholars of colonialism, African history, and ethnography as well those for whom the problem of commodification is a significant theoretical issue.


“[Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women’s] greatest contribution is its theoretical connection of previously disparate fields of inquiry and its development of perspectives and strategies about the changing conceptualization and realization of cleanliness and body care in Zimbabwe.” — Jeanne Marie Penvenne , Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“Burke . . . has a keen eye for many ironies and paradoxes occurring at the point of reception, where African men and women, variously located in colonial society, gave their own twist and meaning to products and messages as these reached them. . . . [A]dmirably nuanced and subtle.””

— Rob Kroes , Journal of American History

“Burke’s overall project is successful in combining trends in current cultural studies and history to delineate changes in individual appropriations of toiletries within a social historical context of African and European interaction in colonial Zimbabwe. In this respect the work will serve well to break from the one-dimensional body of literature that exists in much of the social history covering this period and region.” — Timothy Scarnecchia , International Journal of African Historical Studies

“For those who work in Zimbabwe, Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women will be a welcome addition to the literature. It will also be of great use to other Africanists, as well as those interested in the theoretical intersections of commodity culture, desire, and the colonial encounter.” — Mathew Engelke , American Anthropologist

“The overlapping layers of this book are as successively fascinating as the subject matter is unusual and treated thoughtfully, both theoretically and empirically.” — , Choice

“This important, engaging, and theoretically sophisticated study explores the history of consumption in twentieth-century central Africa. . . . [A]t the same time that Burke provides a compelling ‘biography’ of a commodity, he raises and reframes a series of crucial questions regarding the histories of modern African societies.”

— Charles Ambler , American Historical Review

"Burke has produced an imaginative, even thought-provoking, work. . . . Lifeboy Men, Lux Women remains a lively addition to the historical literature on Zimbabwe and southern Africa more generally. It will no doubt be variously acclaimed and assailed, but it is unlikely to be ignored." — Michael O. West , Journal of Social History

“An exciting and original contribution to a number of areas of study: the history of Africa, the history of the body, and the history of commodification. It is clearly the result of painstakingly thorough research combined with considerable analytical skill and historical imagination. It is one of the few pieces of African historical writing I have read recently which successfully combines empirical research with a real grasp of theory.” — Megan Anne Vaughan, Oxford University

“Well researched, highly intelligent, well written, and markedly original—there is nothing like it in the literature of East, Central, and Southern Africa.” — Terence Ranger, Oxford University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Timothy Burke is Associate Professor of History at Swarthmore College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

1. Cleanliness and "Civilization": Hygiene and Colonialism in Southern Africa 17

2. Education, Domesticity, and Bodily Discipline 35

3. Buckets, Boxes, and "Bonsella": Precolonial Exchange, the "Kaffir Truck" Trade, and African "Needs" 63

4. Manufacturing, the "African Market," and the Postwar Boom 91

5. The New Mission: Advertising and Market Research in Zimbabwe, 1945-1979 125

6. Bodies and Things: Toiletries and Commodity Culture in Postwar Zimbabwe 166

Appendix: Budgetary Charts, 1957-1970 217

Notes 229

Bibliography 271

Index 293
Sales/Territorial Rights: North America

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1762-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1753-1
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