Paper short abstract:
Based on the study of funerary rites, this paper advocates for the analysis of post-war social processes in a Liberian border zone that favours continuity in the tropes used to articulate belonging. This to temper the focus on change and crisis that dominates analyses of modernity and conflict.
Paper long abstract:
This paper deals with the question of change in two ways. As part of a larger ethnographic project on the social articulation of belonging in post-war Liberia I ask, first, what mechanism are used to express and perform modes of belonging at various scales. Second, I link these findings to the larger epistemological question of how anthropologists produce knowledge on conflict and post-conflict societies with special focus on the apparent obsession with change.
The border region connecting Liberia with Guinea and Ivory Coast has been characterised by conflict, crisis and uncertainty since the early 1990s. Based on the case studies of funerary rites, I will describe the use of idioms of relatedness and belonging grounded in matrilateral tropes that define social hierarchies between landlords and strangers that are also articulated in the recollecting of oral histories and in everyday life. These idioms, I will argue are an indication of continuity of long-term modes of identification and belonging. Nevertheless, by adopting a performative approach to these data, I will show that these idioms are not to be taken for granted but rather the result of a constant (re-)negotiation.
I argue that these data serve the need to temper the apparent domination of analytical frameworks evolving around notions like change, innovation, loss, breakdown, and creativity. Notions that are often used to describe conflict and post-conflict social dynamics and processes and that can be seen as a particular exponent of the modernity debate.
Obsession with change