Spring Conference 2013: No Condition is Permanent? Permanence, Flux, and Mobility in Contemporary Africa

African Studies Workshop Student Conference

No Condition is Permanent?

Permanence, Flux, and Mobility in Contemporary Africa

16 – 17 May 2013

Venue: Wilder House

The question of permanence, of how to create continuity and belonging, has long been an implicit topic of study in Africanist anthropology. Older anthropological theories presupposed continuity in their analyses of African sociality, even as their ethnographic accounts revealed flux and instability. In breaking with these theories, contemporary anthropology understands permanence as both fragile and elusive. Reinterrogating the question of permanence—asking how it is imagined, actively produced or its absence exploited—opens up conceptual space for a more subtle reading of continuities and forms of belonging as well as ruptures and re-imaginings of sociality in contemporary Africa.

Analyses of the emergence, maintenance or unsettling of stability are crucial to scholarship of Africa in all disciplines. In Madagascar and South Africa, Chinese firms are reshaping social, political and infrastructural landscapes through new investments and extraction policies. Whether in the wake of civil wars, or in response to perceived social problems, NGOs have long sought to intervene in processes of social reproduction, raising the issue of how populations achieve or contest cultural and social continuity over time. In post-conflict countries such as Angola a tenuous political stability appears to have been achieved, producing new ideas about what a desirable politics is for a cohesive Angolan nation-state. In contrast, in Kenya, violence after the 2007 presidential election shook many Kenyans’ confidence in the permanence of the nation-state, raising the question of whether ethnic belonging was in fact a more durable form of membership.

Problematizing permanence raises the following questions: For Africans on the continent and abroad what does permanence mean? What does it look like? What do we find in its absence? Instability? Uncertainty? Mobility? Is permanence always a sought after condition? How is it constituted and how is it undermined? How does its production or destabilization affect imaginations and understandings of belonging? How are the production of space and place linked to changes in the possibilities for permanence and its understanding? Are new understandings of permanence being created precisely through the very phenomena often associated with instability?

This conference seeks to address the above-mentioned questions by inviting the submission of papers that investigate the topic of permanence. Some themes that papers might address include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Migration and mobility
  • The circulation of signs, goods, and people
  • Translation, mediation, and commensuration
  • Memory, temporality, history
  • The making and unmaking of space and place

Conference schedule

16 May

5:00pm in Classica 110:

Keynote speaker: Charles Piot (Duke University), “Migration Stories: The US Visa Lottery and Global Citizenship.” 


17 May

8:30 – 9:00. Breakfast and opening remarks

9:00 – 10:45. Panel: Permanence and Materiality

  • Joshua Walker, “The Ends of Extraction: Diamond Mining After the Boom in DR Congo”
  • Kate McHarry, “‘I no longer see it’: Impermanent Materialities and the Politics and Pleasures of Fragility in Senegal”
  • George Paul Meiu,”“’The Money of Mombasa Doesn’t Last’: Contesting the Durability of Miraculous Wealth in Kenya’s Ethno‐Erotic Economies”
  • Matthew Knisely, “Map-Making and Metaphor in the Construction of Hadza and Sandawe Autochthony”
  • Discussant: Ralph Austen (University of Chicago).

10:45 – 11:00. Teabreak

11:00 – 12:30. Panel: Semiotics of Permanence

  • Filipe Calvão, “The Company’s Oracle: Divination, Secrecy, and the Intimacy of Control”
  • Elizabeth Brummel, “Truth hurts n lies heal: Deception, Identification and Recognition”
  • Jay Schutte Sino-African ‘Cosmopolitans’ and the Chronotope of Aspirational History
  • Discussant: William P. Murphy (Northwestern University)

12:30 – 2:30. Lunch

2:30 – 4:15. Panel: Politics and Permanence in Contemporary Africa

  • Claudia Gastrow, ‘”If Angola Were Libya’: Undoing Democracy In Luanda, Angola
  • Erin Moore, “The Anti-Politics of an Interminable Adolescence: Gender, Age, and Self- Shaming in Kampala”
  • Lauren Coyle, “Sacrificial Laws of the Golden Lands: Fallen Chiefs, Artisanal Miners, and Authoritarian Echoes in Ghana”
  • Thomas Leavitt, “Humans Rights and Transnational Politics: Insights from Chicago’s African Population”
  • Discussant: Charles Piot (Duke University)

4:15 – 5:00. Tea

5:00. Keynote two: Beth Buggenhagen (Indiana University at Bloomington). “Potentiality and Impermanance: Photography and Economic Uncertainty in Dakar.”

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