Unavowed value: Economy, comparison, and hierarchy in Dakar

Ismaël Moya


According to Louis Dumont, comparison is the starting point of any anthropological analysis: an experiment that elicits differences to provide ideas and justify analytical standpoints. Yet what difference might fuel a comparative experiment in a global African metropolis such as Dakar, the capital of Senegal? I suggest a comparison with the autonomy and primacy of the economic in Euro-America to produce a radical constrast. This text first examines Dumont’s work on the “economic” as a value conflicting with the political in Euro-America. Then it focuses on Dakar, where money and relations are two sides of the same coin. Following the money trail, it explores Dakar’s sociality, in which women’s exchange ceremonies of birth and marriage are more highly valued than the local economy, yet vividly condemned in discourses as a local custom preventing the full realization of economic development and Islam. Confronting these moral contradictions and the primacy of women’s exchange ceremonies over the economic in Dakar’s sociality, the text proposes to distinguish between morality and values and acknowledges women’s ceremonies as an “unavowed” value. It then argues that moral contradictions of this kind mark the contrast between different levels of value and the existence of a hierarchy that articulates incompatible conceptions within the same social formation.


Senegal, value, hierarchy, money, economy, sociality, ceremonial exchange, Islam

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau5.1.008