Review: Borderland Biashara Report (2016)


Image 1: Traders and Transport Options on the Border of Kenya and Uganda. Photo credit: Niti Bhan.

Upon reading the Emerging Future's Lab newly released report Borderland Biashara (2016), you will quickly realize that everything you think you know about trade and the informal economy on the Kenya/Uganda borderlands is probably wrong.

I have always been interested in what is labeled the informal economy. As an African American, de facto segregation and discrimination meant that my parents, and especially grandparents, operated in the informal economy. They hailed gypsy cabs before there was Uber. One grandfather was a money lender, so there was a preference to deal in cash not bank accounts. Wages could be paid under the table. Holiday presents may have "fallen off a truck." They operated in a gray zone of legality and illegality, when American laws were prejudicial against black people.

I more directly experienced the informal economy when I spent my formal anthropology career in East Africa (1993-1999), specifically in Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia. But this was before the cultural shifts happening in Africa due to access to mobile technologies. To understand the dynamic quality of entrepreneurship on the Kenya and Uganda border today, you must read the Borderland Biashara Report because it does two things extremely well.

First, the report does an excellent job of providing an in depth description of the interconnections between personal relationships, which, by definition of being part of the informal economy, are not mediated by formal contracts, and the success of a trader's business. This is due to the ethnographic approach of the research team: Niti Bhan, Emerging Future's Lab Director, Rinku Gajera, Research Lead, and Michael Kimani, Research Associate.

One of the key insights of the report is HOW different kinds of informal traders improve the quality of their family, financial, transport, information technology, and customer networks in order to improve their businesses. You could feel the hustle and bustle of the traders' various socially-driven economic activities whether it is calling, texting, or transferring  money on M-pesa for agents or family on their mobile phones; visiting a supplier via a matatu, or sitting under a specific tree where customers will know where to find them. Good social networks are good business.

Second, the report selects a trader segment, which the team calls the Hidden Middle, as a focus for their nuanced analysis of the relationship between formal and informal structures in support of the traders' business. I hate to break it to the banks out there hoping to cash in on the informal economy in Kenya and Uganda--you are seen to provide limited ROI in terms of these trader's business value and your fees make no sense. The team's insights into Hidden Middle's optimization of both systems present a  break through for those in development to understand when formalization works or does not work as a driver of entrepreneurship.

The Emerging Future's Lab Borderland Biashara Report demonstrates the best of what design thinking--although I think their work is more aligned with my seven principles of design anthropology--can do in helping organizations to better understand the dynamics and non-exploitative opportunities that exist in various alternative economies in the world. I hope to see the team presenting their report at all the design and ethnography conferences next year (EPIC, Core77, HOW Design Live, Ico-D) in recognition of their project's accomplishments.




Rebranding Anthropology Textbooks

Beloit College Anthropologist, Associate Professor Jennifer Esperanza was feeling frustrated. Why is there always images of "exotic" peoples on the cover of anthropology textbooks? "Why can't there be images of, for example, a group of white American women eating salads, on the cover?," she asked.

A quick Google image search of "anthropology textbooks" demonstrates her point: image 1.


Image 1: Screenshot of Google image search of "anthropology textbooks"

 Stephen Nugent (2007: 132) in his book, Scoping the Amazon: Image, Icon, and Ethnography, describes: 

Much of the writing on anthropological photography has sought to redress the indexical bias according to which Western image making of non-Westerners has, to put it as crudely as possible, objectified anthropological (and other) subjects.

The aim of the Rebranding Anthropology Textbooks is to offer a critique not just in words, but in counter images that make stark the construction of identities and the owner/subjects of the anthropological gaze in anthropological photography. For me, it is part of two larger projects in which I have been involved. The first is the Decolonizing Anthropology project, which was first articulated by Dr. Faye Harrison in 1991. Since becoming an anthropologist, I have accepted her challenge to work "to free the study of humankind from the prevailing forces of global inequality and dehumanization and to locate it firmly in the complex struggle for genuine transformation" (Harrison 1991: 10). The second is the Rebranding Anthropology project that I initiated in 2005 with other applied anthropologists. This project culminated in a 2006 workshop with the American Anthropological Association to reposition the field from its traditional stereotypes to its contemporary practices and competitors. It also led to the redesign of the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology branding and logo mark in 2008 by University of Illinois at Chicago graphic design students.

The design brief that I offered to my former Swinburne Design Anthropology postgraduate students was the following:

Greetings Danthro Alums. I have a quick weekend project for you to do as a favor. A friend of mine pointed out how all anthropology textbooks have these "exotic" images of others on the covers and never an image of "white women eating salad". 

Me, being Dr. Smarty Pants, said, "Wouldn't it be great to replace those exotica images with those of middle class American/Australian Caucasians doing stuff, maybe even using stock photos?"

So, I would ask you to select a cover from a cultural anthropology textbook and replace the "exotica" image with an image equivalent of "white women eating salad." I would suggest creative commons instead of stock images so that we can use them in an article about this topic.

I selected as my template the textbook, Anthropology: What Does It Mean to Be Human by Robert Lavenda and Emily Schultz, 3rd Edition: image 2.


Image 2: Cover of Anthropology: What Does It Mean to Be Human textbook

Then, I recreated the textbook with a set of two new images: image 3. The first image is one of my own and has the same Western "anthropological gaze" exotic style as the original textbook image. I used one of my own to avoid any future copyright issues in the reproduction of the project's images in articles, books, and exhibitions. It was also a good reminder for me of how many of the images in my iPhoto library adhered to the National Geographic style of representing the people and places where I have traveled for research. The second image is a decolonized version that shows a similar topic but with Western cultural practices as the subject. I downloaded the image from a Flickr Creative Commons image by colorblindPICASO.

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Image 3: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Woman in Store. Credit: Elizabeth Tunstall and colorblindPICASO CC BY-NC 2.0

Design anthropologist, business coach, and branding specialist, Julie Hill accepted the challenge and produced nine images for the project. She describes her experience below:

I found this exercise interesting and fun to explore. Especially focusing on the shift in the lens, from traditional anthropology to contemporary ethnography, and what that means. The longer I did it, the more interesting it got - I accessed deeper cultural themes, such as beauty, festivities or core cultural values. I liked the one where the North African guy is using modern technology (ipad) and the Western woman is practicing yoga, but maybe it would have been more effective if I had put a traditional Indian woman practicing yoga and then a western woman practicing yoga, to demonstrate a difference.

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Image 4: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Beauty Clay. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

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Image 5: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Body Modification. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

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Image 6: "Exotic" and decolonized images of The Interpretation of Culture. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

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Image 7: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Dancing. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

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Image 8: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Introducing Anthropology. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

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Image 9: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Market. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

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Image 10: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Cultural Anthropology textbook. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

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Image 11: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Nubile Women. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

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Image 12: "Exotic" and decolonized images of Eating. Credit: Julie Hill. All images are from Creative Commons (Wikimedia).

 APA Citation: Tunstall, E. (2016, April 7). Rebranding Anthropology Textbooks [Web log post]. Retrieved from