Accepted Paper:

Ordinary daily social violence in Africa: an offspring of urban anomy and normative confusion  


Jacky Bouju ( Aix Marseille Université)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyzes daily expressions of ordinary violence in African cities through field works data. First results seem to show it as an attempt to reorganize reciprocal expectations in the way of strengthening submissiveness or responsability on one side or emancipating on the other side

Paper long abstract:

This paper is focusing on narratives of daily ordinary social violence collected in recent ethnographic field works undertaken in African capital cities (Bamako, Ouagadougou, Kinshasa, Bangui). Although the construction of violence as a recognized social fact was studied from three points of view : the victim (as the narrator of his suffer), the perpetrator (as a commentator of his violent action) and the witnesses (as legitimators of the qualification of the act as being "violence"), the complex relationship between its rational side (an efficient way to obtain something from somebody) its cultural side (a traditional, legitimate or honourable way to behave in such a situation) and its irrational side (a spontaneous way to react) blurred the representations of what local people consider as « violence". Moreover, according to witnesses testimonies violence may bear several meanings: it does express the will to neglect community's norms at the cost of physical or mental suffering of those who are thus wronged, but at the same time it also expresses the will to reorganize assigned reciprocal expectations in the opposite directions of strengthening submissiveness or responsability on one side of the relationship or emancipating and escaping duty on the other side of it. Therefore, I suggest that the analyze of routine situations of ordinary social violence is a very good observation post of the social changes at work. In many cases, violence appears to be a way to stress an identity neglected by the economic, educational and social change taking place. In such a case, it expresses the wish to modify a personal situation perceived as becoming untolerable. And as such it speaks for a kind of conflictuality which find, right or not, no other way to express itself.

In a contemporary African urban context marked by life uncertainties, situations of urban anomy and generalized normative confusion which endanger personal and collective identities, perpetrators of violent actions calls very much for being recognized as the subject and author of one's own life, to be recognized also in one's reciprocal expectations, in one's representations of social life and finally in one's identity. Ordinary daily violence then appears to be a practical mean to statisfy needs as well as to promote claims. But it also operates as a symbolic way to dramatize basic elements of social experience able to attract the so desired social recognition.

Panel W039
Violence expressed