The unmaking of a commodity: Intermediation and the entanglement of power cables in Nigeria
This article by Heidi Østbø Haugen examines the role of intermediation in creating entanglements and undermining market orders.
Nigerians once trusted power cables to be safe and compliant with international standards. Today, however, the Nigerian market is rife with substandard cables, which may overheat, shoot out sparks, and cause fires. Power cables have been transformed from commodities with stable and precisely defined properties into entangled objects that can only be known through the actors accompanying them. Marketization scholarship has conventionally focused on efforts and investments to disentangle things from their networks of connections, affording less attention to the specifics of how entanglements are produced.
This article examines the role of intermediation in creating entanglements and undermining market orders. The analysis first identifies intermediaries that endeavor to translate the market logic into concrete realities in Nigeria. The second and main part of the analysis draws upon data from ethnographic fieldwork in Nigeria and China to assess how intermediaries destabilized the commodity of cables by forging new connections between traders and producers and by enabling inferior products to enter the market.
The article proposes intermediation as a meso-level concept for connecting concrete and empirically observable events to theories of marketization. The approach moves marketization scholarship forward and away from its oft-vague operationalizations, while also suggesting new avenues for research on intermediation beyond the study of markets.