Accepted paper:

African mediums in the Netherlands: negotiating heterotopias


Amber Gemmeke (University of Bayreuth)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how, in the Netherlands, African mediums and their clients create and negotiate an heterotopic space. Taking the intimate setting of ‘spiritual’ practices as a starting point, it investigates how daily struggles are both transcended and mirrored on a supernatural level.

Paper long abstract:

In the Netherlands, most African spiritual mediums and their clients live in the new low-cost outskirts of urban centers or in the older, rundown neighborhoods of inner cities. Here, both mediums and their clients struggle on a daily basis with issues such as illegality, the Dutch administrative system, substance abuse, drug dealing, family tensions, and financial worries. Within this turmoil, in the intimate setting of a consultation, African mediums impress an utopia upon their clients: a stress-free life with the aid of incantations and sacrifices. However, just as 'religious' and 'secular' are interrelated in concepts and practices, utopia and dystopia cannot be separated. On the one hand, the power and popularity of a medium depends on his ability to create an utopic vision of life. On the other hand, clients are well aware of the precarious situation of the mediums themselves and fear them being charlatans at best and using their powers in malicious ways at worse. This paper focuses on the intimate one-on-one setting between African spiritual mediums and their clients in the Netherlands. It addresses specifically how, in this setting, an heterotopia is created and negotiated: a liminal space, in which daily struggles are both transcended and mirrored on a supernatural level. The paper is based upon fieldwork in Senegal in 2004-2006 and in the Netherlands in 2011-2013.

panel P063
Anthropological utopias: debating personal, political and idealist expectations in the intersection of theory and ethnographic practice