The Nature of Entrustment

Intimacy, Exchange, and the Sacred in Africa

Parker Shipton

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This groundbreaking book addresses issues of the keenest interest to anthropologists, specialists on Africa, and those concerned with international aid and development. Drawing on extensive research among the Luo people in western Kenya and abroad over many years, Parker Shipton provides an insightful general ethnography. In particular, he focuses closely on nonmonetary forms of exchange and entrustment, moving beyond anthropology’s traditional understanding of gifts, loans, and reciprocity. He proposes a new view of the social and symbolic dimensions of economy over the full life course, including transfers between generations. He shows why the enduring cultural values and aspirations of East African people—and others around the world—complicate issues of credit, debt, and compensation.
The book examines how the Luo assess obligations to intimates and strangers, including the dead and the not-yet-born. Borrowing, lending, and serial passing along have ritual, religious, and emotional dimensions no less than economic ones, Shipton shows, and insight into these connections demands a broad rethinking of all international aid plans and programs.

Parker Shipton is associate professor of anthropology and research fellow in African studies, Boston University. He has conducted research in Kenya, The Gambia, Colombia, and elsewhere and is former president of the Association for Africanist Anthropology, a division of the American Anthropological Association. He lives in Cambridge, MA.

"Shipton takes what he finds for an African people, the Luo, as the material for a much broader and more powerful examination of the fates of the world's rural populations."—David William Cohen, University of Michigan

“In his impressive, insightful, and original book, Shipton has two main areas of concern: the very nature of small-scale societies of the present, and the contact between them and the more powerful societies of the capitalist world.”—John Middleton, Yale University

"This is an important book written by an impressive scholar. It tackles a complex subject with analytical subtlety, ambitious intellectual range, and a meticulous attention to empirical detail. It is written in a refreshingly engaging and lucid style that should make its many provocative and productive insights accessible to a wide audience."—Michael Dietler, University of Chicago

“An eminently readable analysis of ‘trust’ in human society, this ethnographically rich study of the Luo of Kenya shows how lending, borrowing and indebtedness are moral before they are economic.”—David Parkin, University of Oxford

Winner of the 2008 Melville J. Herskovits Award, given by the African Studies Association.
ISBN: 9780300116014
Publication Date: July 10, 2007
312 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
20 b/w in gallery, 1 map in text
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