Accepted paper:

Writing across margins: upscaling and crossing trajectories of a slum-based autobiography


Karel Arnaut (KULeuven)

Paper short abstract:

This paper envisages a descriptive and methodological contribution to the panel’s theme by presenting a case of collaboration between an anthropologist (myself) and an author cum slum-dweller in view of the editing, partial translation, and publishing of the latter’s 500-page autobiography.

Paper long abstract:

This paper presents a case of collaboration between an anthropologist (myself) and an author cum slum-dweller from Côte d’Ivoire in view of the editing, partial translation and international publishing of the latter’s autobiography. The 500-page autobiography in question is entitled ‘Le companion: journal d'un Noussi en guerre: 2002-2011’ (The companion : diary of a Noussi at war 2002-2011) and is written in a mixture of French and urban vernacular by a former member of an Abidjan-based ‘patriotic’ militia whose nom de guerre as well as nom de plume is Marcus Garvey. The Noussi in the title indicates the author’s self-identification as a homeless school dropout. This paper reflects on the three-year long trajectory during which an assorted set of hundreds of hand-written pages became the object of a project shared by Marcus Garvey and myself aimed at making this autobiography in-the-making reach wider audiences: (a) obviously, fellow ‘Noussi’ youngsters and urbanites but also middle-class publics, (b) within and outside Côte d’Ivoire (mainly France), (c) consisting of both former ‘patriots’ (and their ideological allies in the Ivorian diaspora) and their ‘liberal’ opponents who currently occupy powerful political and economic positions in Côte d’Ivoire. These processes and trajectories of social and geographical upscaling as well as political and ideological crossing entail myriad lexical, textual, and metalinguistic operations, which this paper tries to map out within an ethnography of grassroots literacy. Methodologically, this paper revisits Fabian’s seminal 1979 paper on ‘ethnography as communication’ and Karen Barber’s work on popular culture and literacy, before engaging critically with recent mobility-related conceptual tools: navigation, ‘nonscalability’, ‘itineraries/trajectories’, and ‘infrastructures’. The overall purpose of this exploration is to develop a new analytical framework for the study of transcontextual communication and exchange.

panel P019
Writing across borders: textual mediation and collaboration in an interconnected world