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Fair, Laura

Fair, Laura

Laura Fair, born in Chicago, USA, in 1963. Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. Associate Professor of History at Michigan State University.

Fellow (1 September 2013 – 30 June 2014)


Research Question

What is the history of cinemas and movie-going in Tanzania? When and why did movie-going become such a central part of urban life and culture? How did race, class, religion, gender and region impact attendance at the show? What types of films were most popular and how did this vary by gender and age?

Project Description

This book project explores the most popular form of leisure in urban Tanzania for more than three generations: going to the movies. The book transforms our understanding of urban Africa, highlighting the importance of art and culture in the creation of urban social, economic and political life. I emphasize how going to the movies, and talking about the latest film to hit the town, allowed average men and women to craft community from the space in which they lived. Second, the book documents the rise of an industry on a continent where almost nothing is known about how businesses function, and charts transformations in this industry across three radically different forms of political-economy: colonial, socialist and neo-liberal. Third, this book challenges our understanding of South Asian minorities in East Africa. Last, but certainly not least, this book brings socially and historically situated audience members center screen, shifting the gaze in film studies from disembodied texts to socially imbedded films interpreted by those who went to the show.

Selected Publications

1) Pastimes and Politics: Culture, Community and Identity in Post-abolition Urban Zanzibar, 1890-1945 (Athens,OH: Ohio University Press, 2001).

2) Historia ya Jamii ya Zanzibar na Nyimbo za Siti binti Saad (Nairobi, Kenya: Twaweza, 2013). (English translation: A Social History of Zanzibar and the Songs of Siti binti Saad)