Monday, March 4, 2013
12:30 PM - 2:00 PM
620 Library Place, Conference Room
Evanston, IL 60208 map it
Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public
Group: Program of African Studies
The Program of African Studies, The department of History, The department of Anthropology and the Nicholas D. Chabraja Center for Historical Studies present:
Witchcraft, Intimacy and Trust - Africa in Comparison
Peter Geschiere, Anthropology, University of Amsterdam
Monday, March 4th, 12:30 pm, lunch served
PAS Conference Room, 620 Library Place
Authors abstract: I propose to present some elements from my forthcoming book Witchcraft, Intimacy and Trust - Africa in Comparison (with Chicago Univ. Press).
The focus of this book is on the close and mesmerizing link between witchcraft and intimacy in present-day Africa but also in other times and places. It is more specifically on the problems this link raises for establishing trust despite imminent danger between people who are close (in whatever sense). Thus, witchcraft discourse addresses issues that are quite general, maybe even universally human. In many societies and at quite different moments in world history, witchcraft has been seen as particularly frightening since it conjures up the danger of treacherous attacks from close by—from inside a social core where peace and harmony should reign. The message might be generalized even further. It conveys the warning that seeds of destruction are hidden inside social relations as such, even though these are vital for any human undertaking. This implies quite a different view of human sociality from the one that prevails in much anthropological work. One of the aims of this book, then, is to show that the continuing preoccupation in many parts of Africa with witchcraft is not a sign of the continent’s ‘otherness.’ It reflects, rather, one way of addressing issues that are crucial to human sociality.
The book starts from examples from the author’s field-work among the Maka in the forest of southeast Cameroon and their insistence that ‘the witchcraft of the house’ is the most dangerous one. However, precisely this ‘witchcraft of the house’ turned out to assume very easily global dimensions with new forms of mobility. For understanding the amazing capacity of this type of discourse to be both intimate and global – in African settings, but also, for instance, in Europe, Brazil or Oceania - classical insights turn to be unexpectedly illuminating: Freud’s interpretations of das Heimliche (the uncanny) and its capacity to turn abruptly into something terribly unheimliches; or Simmel’s emphasis on ‘an element of quasi-religious faith’ as a crucial element in any form of trust.
In my talk I propose to focus on the comparison with Europe that can highlight the surprising elasticity of 'the house' - and its dangers - in African contexts. Rather than seeing this as proof of an 'ontological' (African?) specificity, it can be studied as the result of a particular history.