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Paperback Men Own The Fields, Women Own The Crops: Gender And Power In The Cameroon Grassfields Book

ISBN: 029914674X

ISBN13: 9780299146740

Men Own The Fields, Women Own The Crops: Gender And Power In The Cameroon Grassfields

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Women's labor-producing both crops and children-has long been the linchpin of male status and power throughout Africa. This book lucidly interprets the intricate relations of gender to state-building in Africa by looking historically at control over production and reproduction, from the nineteenth century to the present. Miriam Goheen examines struggles over power within the Nso chiefdom in the highlands of Western Cameroon, between the chiefdom and...

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Ethnographic and historical analysis of "male hegemony" in postcolonial Cameroon

Miriam Goheen's Women Own the Fields, Women Own the Crops: Gender and Power in the Cameroon Grassfield is an ethnographically- and historically-based analysis of gender relations in the political economy of the Nso' chiefdom in the Northwest Grassfield province of Cameroon. Using a Marxist focus on labor, production and ownership, and employing Gramsci's notion of hegemony, Goheen explores male/female divisions of labor and political power in 1980s Nso' society. She seeks to explain how a male hegemony among the Nso' developed from political and material changes during the shifts from pre-colonial to colonial to postcolonial forms of governance, and looks at new ways in which elite females in their personal life choices are beginning to "resist" and may eventually transform the male hegemony. Goheen's central argument is that the Nso' hegemony of the gendered identification of women with farm production, reproduction and childrearing, and household management, and of men with hunting and war, has collaborated in postcolonial Cameroon with the state hegemony of power of elite men, to produce an ideology of a stricter boundary between male (public) and female (private) activity and to create a political and material reality that excludes preexisting forms of power held by women in politics and in everyday economic activity. She demonstrates through historical analysis how the central Cameroonian national hegemony of dominance and power of an elite class was established in the postcolonial state to work together with local elites such as the elites of the Nso' people (Goheen 1996:15), whose hegemony of gender relations has been both reinforced and transformed over time to result in a hegemonic social structure in the 1980s that restricts women to an economic domain of farming and household management that is no longer politically visible. The concept of hegemony proves useful to understanding how political power of elites is consolidated and reproduced through forms of dominance over everyday activities, and how the everyday economy and division of labor in which Nso' women participate is dominated by both the local and national power structures that create a unified hegemony of gender relations. Goheen's thorough historical analysis of the development of these hegemonies of power and their collaboration in dominating women's participation in the economy is one of the strongest points of her book, which makes her argument convincing in many ways. Unlike ethnographies that are based mainly on interviews and observation of everyday activities, Goheen's study is both a detailed analysis of structural changes over time, and of the everyday manifestations of hegemonic power structures in people's actions and experiences, thoughts expressed through interviews, and material conditions, documented by surveys of household incomes, expenses, and divisions of labor. The Marxist focus on material relations provides a strong argument backed up by this impressi

Insightful and Informative

Miriam Goheen's 1996 work, Men Own The Fields, Women Own the Crops: Gender and Power in the Cameroon Grassfields, examines the intersections of gender, cultural flux, contestations of power, and political plurality in Cameroon's Nso' chiefdom. In her analysis, Goheen pays special attention to the position of women and their avenues of power in the male-dominated Nso' political system. With a focus on the Nso' chiefdom's complex relationship with the centralized government, Goheen explores several realms of Nso' politics in which the role of women is in flux, these include; the restructuring of the fon chiefdom system, the allocation and the commoditization of arable land, attitudes concerning marriage. The book is organized around eight chapters with a brief prologue that orients readers with a brief introduction of the effects of globalization, education, and political reordering in roughly the past twenty years (considering the 1996 publishing date).A recurrent theme in the text is Goheen's reference of Phyllis Kaberry's research with the Nso' nearly forty years earlier. In her introduction, Goheen identifies Kaberry's work as a catalyst for her own research. For the reader who is not familiar with Kaberry's work, the consistent thread of conversation between Goheen's experience and Kaberry's work can be somewhat alienating. In addition, while highly readable, Goheen's analysis tends to be somewhat dense. Some chapters, for example "The Forging of Hegemony", which examines Nso' reliance on women's reproductive and productive capacities as well as conceptions of Nso' female identity, may have benefited from being organized in to more than one chapter. These stumbling blocks aside, Goheen's work appeals to any reader concerned with the effects of political plurality, the construction of identity between the tensions of tradition and modernity, as well as women's right to self-determination.

Structure and the Individual in Goheen's Men Own the Fields, Women Own the Crops

Miriam Goheen traveled to the grassfields of Cameroon intending to study "the relationship between local and national politics within the postcolonial state" (3). There, she was struck by how, amidst a culture experiencing the changes associated with "the commodification of almost everything" and the "increasing internationalization of culture," it is gender relations that are most relevant to "an understanding of the complicated interconnections between Nso' and the national state today" (4). Goheen's ethnography focuses on the "internal power relations" of the Nso', and then explores how these power relations "articulate with national power" (4). These internal power relations are defined and supported by the relationships between men, women, and production: "Women play a key role in this study because control of their productive and reproductive labor in Nso has always been central to maintaining the hierarchies of male power and status" (8). Goheen explores in her work how women have become the source of "male power, status, and accumulation," how "national-local practices, legal systems, and cultural institutions within the postcolonial state have served to articulate male power in the local arena with power at the national level," and processes that are counter to the male hegemony that has come to define the state and experience of Nso' society (10). Throughout her study, Goheen draws attention to how "the meaning of power relations" among the Nso changes due to historical processes and changing conceptions of the material (10). Thus, she explains, two central analytical issues of her study are: "the integral interdependence between anthropology and history," and "the relationship between practice and discourse, between the material and the ideological, between base and superstructure in the ways that these are articulated and reproduced in and by the contours of history" (11). It is through Goheen's attention to the political economy of gender and the influence of historical processes on Nso' identity that she is able to identify the counterhegemonies that challenge customary hegemony yet strengthen the structure of gender roles as opposed to a counterhegemony that challenges the gender roles solidified by the postcolonial national state. Goheen's overarching thesis is that the structures of Nso' society have produced a "gendered hierarchy" that assigns women the role of provisioning the household and producing children (16). In so doing, men are afforded the time, status, through high numbers of children and dependents, and personal money to seek political power and maintain customary power. Such a structure of domination stems from the precolonial past, and was expanded and reinforced through colonial and postcolonial rule. She establishes this thesis through the five chapters that follow a largely theoretical introduction. In the final two chapters, Goheen explores two distinct counterhegemonies to the hegemony of male domination e

Men Own the Fields, Women Own the Crops: A Valuable, Though Imperfect, Examination of Land, Gender

Miriam Goheen provides valuable insight into Cameroonian gender and power structures in her examination of Nso life, Men Own the Fields, Women Own the Crops. The text centers on a discussion of hegemony in Cameroonian society, but uses lens of land, gender, and modernity to reveal deeper nuances of its role. Goheen effectively details the power dynamics resulting from cultural practices surrounding production and reproduction, allocation and ownership of resources, local and national male power structures, and social hierarchy. Ultimately, Goheen successfully establishes that earlier practices of male domination (especially in relation to land) determined women's roles as largely subservient to men. It is only in the more contemporary period that gender constructions have come, however reluctantly, into the public arena for debate. The frequent invocation of her title is a noteworthy repetition in Goheen's work, and is the clearest way of communicating her overall point. Goheen cites this Nso phrase to summarize the relationship between gender, land, and power. "Men own the fields, women own the crops" describes men and women as "fathers" and "mothers" of the field, who have important duties to best use farmland. Women are expected to till the land, and through this work, as Goheen notes, women produce 90% of Cameroonian crops consumed. Men are the holders of the land, who allocate it as they see fit to female family members and dependents to farm. The balance of labor and gender was skewed, in part to keep women from "positions of power or public decision making," thus enabling traditional male hegemony. In this short phrase, Goheen encompasses the general representation of men as holders of power and women as support for that arrangement. But Goheen argues that this relationship was sensible in earlier times, because it resulted in "gender complementarity" rather than inherent inequality. The advent of `modernity,' in terms of colonial and capitalist structures, significantly complicated this ages-old statement. Goheen details the changes to women's roles as their work in the fields is commoditized. Particularly in rural areas, Goheen notes, a woman's sales of excess crops supports the "welfare" of her family when she sells them in local marketplaces. Furthermore, the national food supply is largely constituted of this surplus. Yet current Cameroonian laws do not give women equal access to owning land as individuals or through development programs. Traditional methods of farming and subsistence, the main sources of women's social and economic influence, are at risk. New practices resulting from increasing commoditization of land also changed land use due to new inheritance patterns. Traditionally land remained in the possession of a farmer's titled lineage head; upon death, the land would return to the community. But notions of land ownership have become more "individualized," and land use if often passed to the previous farmer's sons.

Outstanding Piece of Ethnography and Social Theory

Ms. Goheen adroitly locates her work in the grassfields of Cameroon within a rich theoretical framework. Fascinating reading for the anthropologist and layman alike.
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