Maasai Ethnic Economy: Rethinking Maasai Ethnic Identity and the 'Cash Economy' Across the Rural-Urban Interface, Tanzania

  • Antonio Allegretti

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis is a study of ethnicity with specific regard to the pastoral Maasai group of Tanzania, East Africa. I frame the analysis proposed in this study within two sets of anthropological theory: economic anthropology and the literature on African pastoralism, with the former working as the primary theoretical framework to contribute and add knowledge to the latter. The overarching objective of the thesis is to contribute to outline the contemporary state of affairs of the socio-economic position and conditions of the Maasai group in the broader national context of Tanzania, departing from a distinctly spatial investigation across the rural/urban interface. Specifically, I pursue this objective by analysing the local economy of a rural village on the fringes of expanding urban territory. In the thesis I investigate issues that include thrift, exchange, consumption, and the market by making use of these 'objects' as analytical devices to explore how Maasai ethnic identity is produced, reproduced, and negotiated across multiple terrains. This study intends to fills the gap that exists within literature on pastoralism and the 'cash economy' as regards to these issues and 'objects' of analysis. The sequence of the chapters unfolds to show the manifold terrains and domains in which Maasai ethnicity 'matters', from everyday actions and practices of consumption to longer-term investments, to conclude eventually with the organization of the livestock market in which Maasai ethnicity contributes to facilitate trading and the building of trust between market actors. In the end, the anthropological enquiry of the 'cash economy' intends to enhance the understanding of how forms of ethnic identification, in this case Maasai, are an essential quality and aspect of the contemporary globalised world and that neoliberal market policies, commoditization and urbanization as expressions of globalisation contribute to strengthen rather than lessen their importance.
Date of Award31 Dec 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMaia Green (Supervisor) & Daniel Brockington (Supervisor)


  • economic anthropology
  • East Africa
  • Tanzania
  • pastoralism
  • Maasai
  • development

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