The Cichlid Fishes of Lake Malawi, Africa

Abstract of Doctoral Dissertation

Gudrun Haraldsdottir
The University of Iowa, 2002
Adviser: E. Paul Durrenberger  

Cooperation and conflicting interests: An ethnography of fishing and fish trading on the shores of Lake Malawi (Malawi)  

The thesis addresses social and economic complexity within two fisheries communities in the Mangochi District of Southern Malawi. The central question concerns the ways in which identities and social relations come into play in economic practices. The study explores power in social relations, particularly in gender relations, and situates the fisheries communities in the wider context of a postcolonial political economy. The study seeks to explain people's ability to negotiate their options within a context of a developing political and economic pluralism in Malawi. The data in the thesis derive from thirteen months of ethnographic field research in Malawi. While in the field, information was collected through a variety of anthropological research methods: observation, censuses, interviews, informal discussion, and participation in the day-to-day routines of village life. Censuses conducted in both research communities provided comprehensive data on the villages' demographic and economic features, and served as the bases for taking samples for formal interviews. A standardized questionnaire was used to take a systematic in-depth interview with each individual sampled. In addition, several open-ended interviews were conducted in each village with individuals from various social categories. Interviews were also conducted with government officials in different offices of the Fisheries Department in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs in Malawi. Historical processes have shaped the identities and relationships that underlie people's social and economic actions in the fisheries communities in Southern Malawi today. In the present no less than in the past, the economy is embedded in its social and cultural environment. Gender identities and gender relations, for example, are complex forces that shape people's access to fish and how they do their business. The analytical perspective on multiple personal and collective identities in a postcolony is shown to be compatible with an approach that reveals complex power relations and inequalities within the communities. A major theoretical result is to problematize the concept of "community" itself. This critique is substantiated empirically in various contexts, such as in an analysis of the fisheries "co-management" system that the Malawian government is attempting to implement in the lakeshore communities.




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