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Of Meters and Metis: Electricity Disconnection in Postsocialist Tanzania - Michael Degani, Johns Hopkins University

Friday, March 8, 2019 at 3:00pm to 4:30pm

Warren Hall, B73

Speaker: Michael Degani, Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University

Abstract: Over twenty years of neoliberal reform, electricity in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, has become less reliable even as its importance has increased. While mobile phones, televisions, and refrigerators flood the city, the electricity required to power these devices is still supplied by an old, socialist-era parastatal—Tanesco—characterized by increased tariffs, aging physical infrastructure, and a sluggish bureaucracy. This talk examines Tanesco’s fraught attempts to discipline power consumers in the postsocialist era. It is based on fieldwork with Tanesco Disconnection Teams and Revenue Protection Units that circulate through various neighborhoods to monitor, inspect, and occasionally disconnect household and commercial meters. In narrating these patrols, the talk charts the formation of two broad landscapes of electricity use: an older, denser, and poorer urban core, known as “Swahili” neighborhoods, characterized by multiple-family rental housing and an aging postpaid metering system; and a relatively new, spacious, and wealthy set of neighborhoods characterized by gated compounds with prepaid meters. Residents in both diverge from Tanesco’s ideal of legible citizen-consumers who pay for service in even and transactionally precise cycles. Instead, high levels of debt and surreptitious reconnection tend to characterize the former neighborhoods, while incentives for intentional theft and tampering tend to characterize the latter. In response, patrols evolve tacit principles and thresholds to mediate these strategies while executing their mandate of enforcing neoliberal discipline.

Presented by the Department of Development Sociology Seminar Series

Co-Sponsored by Anthropology and Institute for African Development

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Event Type

Lecture, Seminar


Department of Development Sociology (DSOC), Development Sociology, Anthropology, Institute for African Development


dsoc, devsoc, anthro, anthro-colloquium, Seminar, iad



Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

Sarah Day


Michael Degani

Speaker Affiliation

Johns Hopkins University

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