Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-sh8wx Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-24T22:29:21.523Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false


Capital’s New Frontier: From “Unusable” Economies to Bottom-of-the-Pyramid Markets in Africa

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2013

Catherine Dolan
Catherine S. Dolan is a reader in the Department of Anthropology, School for Oriental and African Studies, and an associate fellow at the Saïd Business School and Green Templeton College, University of Oxford. She specializes in the cultural economy of development, primarily in Africa, and over the past fifteen years has directed interdisciplinary programs on poverty, globalization, commodity chains, corporate social responsibility, and gender. E-mail:
Kate Roll
Kate C. Roll is a D.Phil. candidate in the Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford. Her current research concerns the role of veterans’ benefits programs in Timor-Leste on the political reintegration of former resistance members and postconflict state consolidation. She formerly served as a research assistant for Brown University’s Watson Institute of International Studies’ project on Targeting Terrorist Finances and Targeted Sanctions. E-mail:


Over the last decade, the bottom-of-the-pyramid (BoP) approach has gained prominence as a tool of “inclusive” capitalism in sub-Saharan Africa. This approach reframes development as a seamless outcome of core business activities, one that can ameliorate poverty by bringing much-needed products and services to the poor and generating employment opportunities for informal and subsistence workers as “micro-entrepreneurs.” Yet while transnational capital has set its sights on Africa’s “underserved” yet potentially buoyant markets, BoP initiatives do more than seize upon the entrepreneurial talent and aspirations of Africa’s informal economies. This article argues, rather, that these initiatives create BoP economies through a set of market technologies, practices, and discourses that render the spaces and actors at the bottom of the pyramid knowable, calculable, and predictable to global business. The article describes how these technologies extend new forms of market governance over the informal poor, reconfiguring their habits, social practices, and economic strategies under the banner of poverty reduction.


Au cours des dix dernières années, une approche dite “par le bas” a gagné de l’importance comme outil dans l’expansion d’un capitalisme “inclusif” en Afrique sub-saharienne. Cette approche recadre la notion de développement comme un aboutissement naturel d’activités commerciales essentielles, pouvant améliorer le niveau de pauvreté en apportant des produits et des services de nécessité aux gens dans le besoin et en employant des ouvriers du secteur informel et de subsistance comme “micro-entrepreneurs.” Cependant, alors que la capitale transnationale s’intéresse aux marchés “sous-exploités” quoique prometteurs, les initiatives du Bas de la Pyramide (BOP) font plus que profiter des talents entrepreneuriaux et des aspirations des économies informelles africaines. Cet article soutient que bien au contraire, ces initiatives créent les économies BOP à travers un certain nombre de technologies de vente, de pratiques établies, et de discours qui permettent de connaître les espaces et les acteurs du BOP, de les quantifier et de les prédire pour les besoins du marché mondial. Cet article décrit comment ces technologies, pour réduire la pauvreté, mettent de nouvelles formes de gouvernance du marché à la portée des plus démunis, faisant ainsi évoluer leurs habitudes, leurs configurations sociales et leurs stratégies économiques.

Copyright © African Studies Association 2013 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Agrawal, Arjun. 2005. Environmentality: Technologies of Government and Political Subjects. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
Allen, Kenneth. 2011. Contemporary Social and Sociological Theory: Visualizing Social Worlds. 2nd edition. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
Anagnost, Ann. 2006. “Strange Circulations: The Blood Economy in Rural China.” Economy and Society 35 (4): 509–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Arora, Saurabh, and Romijn, Henny. 2011. “The Empty Rhetoric of Poverty Reduction at the Base of the Pyramid.” Organization, July 28, 125. Scholar
Ashley, Caroline. 2009. “Harnessing Core Business for Development Impact: Evolving Ideas and Issues for Action.” Scholar
Banerjee, Abhijit, and Duflo, Esther. 2011. Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Poverty. New York: Public Affairs.Google Scholar
Bayrasli, Elmira. 2010. “Clinton Global Initiative 2010: Things That Made Me Go ‘hmmm….’ Scholar
Bhasin, Kim. 2012. “Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent Explains Why Everything’s All About Cash.” Scholar
Blažekovic, Marko. 2010. “Making Partnership Work: Cross-Sector Alliances Between Businesses and NGOs at the Bottom of the Pyramid.” D.Phil. thesis, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.Google Scholar
Blowfield, Mick, and Dolan, Catherine. Forthcoming. “Bottom Billion Capitalism: The Possibility and Improbability of Business as Development Actor.” Third World Quarterly.Google Scholar
Boyd, William. 2010. “Ways of Seeing in Environmental Law: How Deforestation Became an Object of Climate Governance.” Ecology Law Quarterly 37: 843916.Google Scholar
Brighenti, Andrea. 2009. “Visibility: A Category for the Social Sciences.” Current Sociology 55 (3): 323–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Burchell, Graham. 1996. “Liberal Government and Techniques of the Self.” In Foucault and Political Reason, edited by Barry, A., Osborne, T., and Rose, N., 1936. London: University College London Press.Google Scholar
Burke, Timothy. 1996. Lifebuoy Men, Lux Women: Commodification, Consumption, and Cleanliness in Modern Zimbabwe. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
Bushell, Brenda. “2008. “Women Entrepreneurs in Nepal: What Prevents Them from Leading the Sector?Gender and Development 16 (3): 549–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Callon, Michel. 2009. “Devices and Desires: How Useful Is the ‘New’ New Economic Sociology for Understanding Market Attachment?Sociology Compass 3 (2): 267–82.Google Scholar
Callon, Michel, and Muniesa, Fabian. 2005. “Economic Markets as Calculative Collective Devices.” Organization Studies 26 (8): 1229–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carrier, James, and Miller, Daniel, eds. 1998. Virtualism: A New Political Economy. Oxford: Berg.Google Scholar
Collier, Paul. 2007. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Colvin, Christopher, Leavens, Joan, and Robins, Steven. 2009. Seeing Like a “PWA”: A Study of Therapeutic Citizens and Welfare Subjects in Cape Town, South Africa. CPRC Working Paper 144. Manchester: CPRC.Google Scholar
Corbridge, Stuart, et al. 2005. Seeing The State: Governance and Governmentality in India. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cornwall, Andrea. 2000. Beneficiary, Consumer, Citizen: Perspectives on Participation for Poverty Reduction. SIDA Study No. 2. Stockholm: Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).Google Scholar
Cross, Jamie, and Street, Alice. 2009. “Anthropology at the Bottom of the Pyramid.” Anthropology Today 25 (4): 49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dean, Mitchell. 1999. Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society. London: Sage.Google Scholar
Dolan, Catherine, and Johnstone-Louis, Mary. 2011. “Re-siting Corporate Responsibility: The Making of South Africa’s Avon Entrepreneurs.” Focaal: Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology 60: 2133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dolan, Catherine, Johnstone-Louis, Mary, and Scott, Linda. 2012a. “Shampoo, Saris and SIM Cards: Seeking Entrepreneurial Futures at the Bottom-of the-Pyramid.” Gender and Development 20 (1): 3347.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dolan, Catherine, Johnstone-Louis, Mary, and Scott, Linda. 2012b. “CARE Bangladesh Rural Sales Programme: Teaching Case.” Oxford: Saïd Business School.Google Scholar
Easterly, William. 2006. The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill And So Little Good. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Elyachar, Julia. 2012. “Next Practices: Knowledge, Infrastructure, and Public Goods at the Bottom of the Pyramid.” Public Culture 24 (1): 109–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Elyachar, Julia. 2006. “Best Practices: Research, Finance, and NGOs in Cairo.” American Ethnologist 33 (3): 412–26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Elyachar, Julia. 2005. Markets of Dispossession: NGOs, Economic Development, and the State in Cairo. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
Escobar, Arturo. 1994. Encountering Development: The Making of the Third World. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Ferguson, James. 1994. The Anti-Politics Machine: Development, Depoliticization, and Bureaucratic Power in Lesotho. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
Ferguson, James. 2005. “Seeing Like an Oil Company: Space, Security, and Global Capital in Neoliberal Africa.” American Anthropologist 107 (3): 377–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ferguson, James. 2006. Global Shadows: Africa in the Neoliberal World Order. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
Ferguson, James. 2007. “Formalities of Poverty: Thinking about Social Assistance in Neoliberal South Africa.” African Studies Review 50 (2): 7186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ferguson, James, and Gupta, Akhil. 2002. “Spatializing States: Toward an Ethnography of Neoliberal Governmentality.” American Ethnologist 29 (4): 9811002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Foucault, Michel. 1982. “The Subject and Power.” In Power (volume 3 of The Essential Works of Foucault, 1954–1984), edited by Faubion, J., 326–48. London: Penguin.Google Scholar
Foucault, Michel. 1997. Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. Volume 1, Essential Works of Michel Foucault, 1954–1984, edited by Rabinow, Paul. New York: New Press.Google Scholar
Foucault, Michel. 1995 [1977]. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Sheridan, Alan. New York: Vintage Press.Google Scholar
Garcia, Mario, and Fares, Jean, eds. 2008. Youth in Africa’s Labour Market. Washington, D.C.: World Bank.Google Scholar
Gates, Bill. 2008. “A New Approach to Capitalism in the 21st Century.” Remarks delivered at the World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, January 24. Scholar
Harrison, Graham. 2010. Neoliberal Africa: The Impact of Global Social Engineering. London: Zed Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hart, Gillian. 2002. Disabling Globalization: Places of Power in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
Hart, Stuart. 2005. Capitalism at the Crossroads: The Unlimited Business Opportunities in Solving the World’s Most Difficult Problems. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson-Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
Hart, Stuart, and London, Ted. 2005. “Developing Native Capability: What Multinational Corporations Can Learn from the Base of the Pyramid.” Stanford Social Innovation Review 3 (2): 2833.Google Scholar
Hunt, Nancy Rose. 1992. “Negotiated Colonialism: Domesticity, Hygiene and Birth Work in the Belgian Congo.” Ph.D. diss., Department of History, University of Wisconsin–Madison.Google Scholar
Ilcan, Suazanne, and Philipps, Lynne. 2008. “Governing through Global Networks: Knowledge Mobilities and Participatory Development.” Current Sociology 56 (5): 711–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Inda, Jonathan X., ed. 2005. Anthropologies of Modernity: Foucault, Governmentality, and Life Politics. Malden, Mass.: Wiley Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Johnstone-Louis, Mary. 2013. “The Stone that the Builder Refused? Women’s Entrepreneurship as a Means to Economic Growth, Human Development, and Empowerment: Analysis of Discourse by Elite Actors and Cases from Latin America.” D.Phil. Transfer of Status Report, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.Google Scholar
Kannabiran, Vasanth. 2005. “Marketing Self-Help, Managing Poverty.” Economic and Political Weekly 20: 3716–18.Google Scholar
Karnani, Aneel. 2007. “The Mirage of Marketing to the Bottom of the Pyramid: How the Private Sector Can Help Alleviate Poverty.” California Management Review 49 (4): 91108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kashyap, Pradeep. 2012. Rural Marketing, 2/e. Delhi: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
Khanna, Tarun, and Palepu, Krishna. 2010. Winning in Emerging Markets: A Road Map for Strategy and Execution. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Kolk, Ans, Rivera-Santos, Miguel, and Rufin, Carlos. 2013. Forthcoming. “Reviewing a Decade of Research on the ‘Base/Bottom of the Pyramid’ (BOP) Concept.” Business and Society.Google Scholar
Kubzansky, Michael, Cooper, Ansulie, and Barbary, Victoria. 2011. Promise and Progress: Market-Based Solutions to Poverty in Africa. Johannesburg: The Monitor Group.Google Scholar
Kuriyan, Renee, Nafus, Dawn, and Mainwaring, Scott. 2012. “Consumption, Technology, and Development: The ‘Poor’ as ‘Consumer.’Information Technology and International Development 8 (1): 112.Google Scholar
Li, Tania. 2007. The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
Little, Peter, and Dolan, Catherine. 2000. “What It Means to Be Restructured: ‘Non-traditional’ Commodities and Structural Adjustment in Sub-Saharan Africa.” In Commodities and Globalization: Anthropological Perspectives, edited by Haugerud, Angelique, Stone, Priscilla, and Little, Peter, 5978. Boulder, Colo.: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
London, Ted. 2009. “Making Better Investments at the Base of the Pyramid.” Harvard Business Review 87 (5): 106–13.Google Scholar
London, Ted. 2011. “Building Better Ventures with the Base of the Pyramid: A Roadmap.” In Next Generation Business Strategies for the Base of the Pyramid: New Approaches for Building Mutual Value, edited by London, Ted and Hart, Stuart, 1944. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson.Google Scholar
London, Ted, and Hart, Stuart. 2011. “Creating a Future with the Base of the Pyramid.” In Next Generation Business Strategies for the Base of the Pyramid: New Approaches for Building Mutual Value, edited by London, Ted and Hart, Stuart, 118. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson.Google Scholar
Mackenzie, Donald, Muniesa, Fabian, and Siu, Lucia, eds. 2007. Do Economists Make Markets? Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
Mahajan, Vijay. 2008. Africa Rising: How 900 Million African Consumers Offer More Than You Think. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson-Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
Meagher, Kate. 2013. “The Trouble that Lurks Beneath: Globalization, Demography and Informal Labour Markets.” Paper presented at ECAS, Lisbon, Portugal, June 29.Google Scholar
Mitchell, Timothy. 2005. “The Work of Economics: How a Discipline Makes Its World.” European Journal of Sociology 46 (2): 297320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mosse, David. 2005. Cultivating Development: An Ethnography of Aid Policy and Practice. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
Mosse, David, and Lewis, David. 2005. The Aid Effect: Giving and Governing in International Development. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
Moyo, Dambisa. 2009. Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.Google Scholar
Neuwirth, Robert. 2012. Stealth of Nations: The Global Rise of the Informal Economy. New York: Anchor Books.Google Scholar
Nonor, Daniel. 2009. “Ghana: Procter and Gamble Launch Always Care Programme.” The Chronicle, November 30. Scholar
Ong, Aiwah. 2006. Neoliberalism as Exception. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
Perry, Alex. 2011. Lifeblood: How to Change the World One Dead Mosquito at a Time. New York: Public Affairs.Google Scholar
Peters, Michael. 2001. “Education, Enterprise Culture and the Entrepreneurial Self: A Foucaultian Perspective.” Journal of Educational Enquiry 2 (2): 5871.Google Scholar
Prahalad, C. K. 2004. The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson.Google Scholar
Prahalad, C. K., and Hammond, Allen. 2002. “Serving the World’s Poor, Profitably.” Harvard Business Review 80 (9): 4857.Google ScholarPubMed
Proctor, Keith. 2013. “Solar Energy: African Economies’ Secret Weapon.” CNN Money, June 25, 2013. Scholar
Rajak, Dinah. 2007. “In Good Company.” D.Phil. thesis, Department of Anthropology, University of Sussex.Google Scholar
Rave, Peter. 2010. How to Approach the “Base of the Pyramid”: A Business-Strategy and Country Analysis. Santa Cruz, Calif.: GRIN Verlag.Google Scholar
Rojas, Cristina. 2004. “Governing through the Social: Representations of Poverty and Global Governmentality.” In Global Governmentality, edited by Larner, Wendy and Walters, William, 97115. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Rose, Nikolas. 1999. Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rose, Nikolas. 1996. “The Death of the Social? Re-Figuring the Territory of Government.” Economy and Society 25: 327–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rose, Nikolas, O’Malley, Pat, and Valverde, Mariana. 2006. “Governmentality.” Annual Review of Law and Social Science 2: 83104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roy, Ananya. 2010. Poverty Capital: Microfinance and the Making of Development. London: Taylor Francis.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roy, Ananya. 2012a. “Ethical Subjects: Market Rule in an Age of Poverty.” Public Culture 24 (1): 105–8CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Roy, Ananya. 2012b. “Subjects of Risk: Technologies of Gender in the Making of Millennial Modernity.” Public Culture 24 (1): 131–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Saul, John, and Leys, Colin. 1999. “Sub-Saharan Africa in Global Capitalism.” Monthly Review 51 (3): 1330.Google Scholar
Schwittay, Anke. 2011a. “The Financial Inclusion Assemblage: Subjects, Technics, Rationalities.” Critique of Anthropology 31 (4): 381401.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Schwittay, Anke. 2011b. “The Marketization of Poverty.” Current Anthropology 52: S71S82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Scott, Beth, et al. 2007. “Health in Our Hands, But Not in Our Heads: Understanding Hygiene Motivation in Ghana.” Health Policy and Planning 22 (4): 225–33.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Scott, James. 1998. Seeing Like a State. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
Shell Foundation. n.d. “4.0 Learning by Doing: Enterprise Solutions to Poverty.” Scholar
Simanis, Erik. 2011. “Needs, Needs, Everywhere but Not a Bop Market to Tap.” In Next Generation Business Strategies for the Base of the Pyramid: New Approaches for Building Mutual Value, edited by London, Ted and Hart, Stuart, 103–28. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Pearson.Google Scholar
Simanis, Erik, and Hart, Stuart. 2009. “Innovation From the Inside Out.” MIT Sloan Management Review 50 (4): 7886.Google Scholar
Simmel, George. 1950. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Translated by Wolff, Kurt. Glencoe, Ill.: The Free Press.Google Scholar
Stanford, Duane. 2010. “Africa: Coke’s Last Frontier.” Bloomberg Business Week, October 28.Google Scholar
Street, Alice, and Cross, Jamie. 2012. “Notes from the Field: Selling Nutraceuticals in Highlands Orissa.” Scholar
Contact, Swiss. 2011. “Innovation at the Base of the Pyramid: A Knowledge Sharing Event.” Scholar
Tokman, Victor. 2007. Modernizing the Informal Sector. DESA Working Paper No. 42ST/ESA/2007/DWP/42. Scholar
Unilever. 2005. “Project Shakti: Creating Rural Entrepreneurs in India.” Scholar
University of Oxford. 2012. “The ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ Approach: Responsible Capitalism or Business as Usual?” Public Debate, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, May 3.Google Scholar
Watts, Michael. 2003. “Development and Governmentality.” Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 24 (1): 634.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Williamson, John. 1993. “Democracy and the ‘Washington Consensus.’World Development 21 (8): 1329–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
World Economic Forum. 2009. The Next Billions: Unleashing Business Potential in Untapped Markets. Geneva: World Economic Forum.Google Scholar