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Cultivating hierarchy: the reproduction of structural advantage in Sierra Leone’s cannabis economy

Suckling, Christopher (2016) Cultivating hierarchy: the reproduction of structural advantage in Sierra Leone’s cannabis economy. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.66fidwgc0u2o


Violence is often treated as an organisational compliment to illicit drug production and exchange in sub-Saharan Africa. The thesis challenges this view in light of the “chain work” undertaken by cannabis cultivators in Sierra Leone, and examines its complex web of labour, exchange, and extra-legal relations. Research reveals that an apprenticeship system during the early 1800s slavery abolition period continued to organise labour in Western Area’s small-scale agriculture. Meanwhile, the migration of cultivators from Jamaica during the economic crises and War on Drugs of the late-1980s coincided with the spread of Rastafari culture and a post-war Neo-Evangelist discourse that established apprenticeship as a legitimate means for learning how to cultivate under the guidance of those known as “shareholders”. These shareholders were gatekeepers in accessing land, exchange partners and extra-legal relations. They secured greater returns without organised violence. This is explained by examining the shortcomings of current conceptual approaches and turning to Pierre Bourdieu’s relational sociology. It employs a mixed methodology of objectivist and subjectivist modes of analysis. The analysis relates the qualitative experience of cultivators and dealers to the particular position they occupied within the economic field of cultivation and exchange and the juridical field of law enforcement. Despite being motivated by strong economic incentives, apprentices and journeymen were subject to the uncertainties of limited contracting arrangements and illegality, which exposed them to exploitation. However, by adopting particular ways of acting, reasoning and valuing that qualified their status as “youth men”, they continued to invest in and reproduce this institution. I examine how emic practices of “sababu”, “grade” and “haju” acted as covert principles that limited the possibility for newcomers to secure higher value exchange partners, greater returns and police inaction. The thesis concludes that apprenticeship was the site at which structural advantages favouring the established shareholders were reproduced.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2016 Christopher Suckling
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare. Criminology
Sets: Departments > Geography and Environment
Supervisor: Low, Murray and Jones, Gareth A.

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