Accepted paper:

Entangled libraries: literacy and development in rural Malawi


Thandeka Cochrane (Cambridge University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores small-scale local libraries in rural northern Malawi that form part of literacy projects in the region, unpacking how they are entangled in global webs of moving materials, donations and donors, affective entanglements and space/place.

Paper long abstract:

Sustainable Development Goal number 4 calls for "Quality Education" for all young people across the globe. One of the key ways in which countries in southern Africa seek to address this goal is through a promotion of literacy and literacy activities. Based on ethnographic observations from 18 months fieldwork in a rural village conglomerate in northern Malawi, this paper explores the ways in which small scale local libraries have emerged in these villages. Using the work of Ian Hodder and Tim Ingold, it unpacks the networks, meshworks and entanglements around their material, social and epistemological emergence and presence. The paper focuses on two libraries, one in a school and one that forms part of an independent development project; it examines how these libraries came into being through the knotting of various global threads, from a chance meeting between a Canadian donor and ardent teacher to the material insistence of a stock-pile of books to be housed somewhere. The paper follows the material entanglements of the books that come into and through the libraries, as well as the library buildings themselves. It shows how affective entanglements of relation are built across the globe through relations between donors, volunteers, teachers and villagers, and explores the stickiness and leaking of the libraries into the communities they are built in. In examining rural libraries as globally entangled, the paper shows how small-scale micro projects in seemingly isolated rural villages are embedded in vast, far-flowing and complex global meshworks and entanglements.

panel A03
Entangled engagements: anthropology's holistic approach to the Global Challenges