Maasai Rejection of the Western Paradigm of Development: A Foucaultian Analysis

Social Philosophy Today 15:339-359 (2000)
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Compared to other ethnic groups in Kenya, the Maasai resisted working wage labor jobs, preferring to continue pastoral practices, even though “development” experts and Kenyans from other ethnic groups derided them as being “backward” and holding back the progress of the country. The phenomenon of Maasai reluctance to adapt to wage labor has been called a "conservative" trend by some, and a radical resistance by others. The British during colonialism seemed irritated and impatient with Maasai for their refusal to work as day-laborers. Rigby agrees that Maasai resisted capitalist wage labor, and he thinks they did so for good reasons (not due to stubbornness or inability to change). This paper explores, and attempts to evaluate the Maasai resistance to Western, colonial cultural influences. It will argue that the Maasai avoided many problems that come with forced change or assimilation. Foucault's description of the disciplinary society, and its organization of work, will be drawn upon to make the argument that some of the new economic opportunities open to the Maasai were greatly unattractive. Maasai work lifestyle gives room for freedom of movement and individual volition to an extent no longer possible in many jobs in the West. Maasai found their own labor setup to be more satisfactory, because it is more in tune with their own concept of personhood.

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Gail Presbey
University of Detroit Mercy

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