Street Dreams and Hip Hop Barbershops

Author(s) Brad Weiss
Publisher Bloomington: Indiana University Press
Year 2009

In his ethnographic study Street Dreams and Hip Hop Barbershops: Global Fantasy in Urban Tanzania, anthropologist Brad Weiss explores contemporary implications of globalization for urban youth in East Africa. More precisely, Weiss focuses on barbershops (vinyozi) to examine “what global relations are like from the perspective of urban Tanzanians, and how activities like hair care provide a means not just of observing or appropriating powerful images of that wider world, but of actively participating in it” (p. 4).

Throughout his case study, Weiss captures imaginations of the world and their remaking within urban Tanzania. He also examines various other areas of popular culture, as he highlights fantasies in the context of youth and masculinity in urban Tanzania. As Weiss summarizes, “these shops link to the wider neoliberal conditions prevalent in Tanzania and to the concrete particulars of social life in Arusha” (p. 10).

Weiss coherently organizes his study, beginning with a discussion of “Popular Culture in Africa and Elsewhere” (p. 23). His brief focus on hairstyle posters and photographs outlines his overall approach, and helps blur the lines between local and global. While highlighting such interconnectedness, Weiss also places his own ideas into existing discussions. He references Bakhtin, Bourdieu, Barber, and others, and emphasizes the need to move beyond simple frameworks of citizenship (p. 28). In his view, “the sense of belonging that emerges […] is riven with simultaneous feelings of antagonism and conflict” (p. 29). Weiss ultimately concludes, “conflicted fantasies are at the core of my ethnography” (38).

Subsequent chapters nicely sustain Weiss’s claims, disrupted by three useful portraits of main protagonists. In Chapter Two, Weiss takes the reader to barbershops to witness conversations and trends. He skillfully ties his own experiences to larger events, including the riots that took place in 2000. Chapter Three then raises questions around masculine fantasies, tied to thug life, hard work, and the removal of women from urban areas. The latter – as with many other elements – “plainly a fantasy, one that imaginatively enacts a central tenet of this hyperagressive masculinist reverie” (p. 84). Weiss concludes this chapter by stating: “It is only by inhabiting these imagined worlds in the intimacy and concreteness of specific social frameworks that locality is produced, global forms are constituted, and fantasy is brought to life” (p. 95). Thereafter, he explores “the dynamics of domination, its material embodiment, and, most particularly, the lived experience of oppressive power” (p. 108).

Weiss also engages with discussions around gender and visibility, and tries to make sense of the dynamics between “Watching Television and Social Participation” (p. 170). He concludes this dense volume with a chapter about “Apocalyptic Hip Hop and the Global Crisis” (p. 197).

Overall, Street Dreams and Hip Hop Barbershops brings a variety of complex issues to the forefront. Weiss has little problems situating his work in larger theoretical conversations, thereby exposing a potential new audience to a variety of existing discussions. Moreover, his own emphasis is convincing, and falls in line with various attempts to make sense of globalization. Throughout this book, Weiss is able to transform abstract barbershops into intimate spaces for conversation and inquiry, only disrupted by extensive theoretical discussions. The latter might limit the use of this book for students of various fields, but as such remains arguably the only flaw of this exciting monograph.

Martin Kalb is a lecturer in the Department of History at Northern Arizona University.

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