Accepted paper:

Between Faith and Consumption: The Case of Muslim Élites in Ivory Coast


Marie Nathalie LeBlanc (Université du Québec à Montréal)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how consumption allows members of Ivory Coast urban Muslim élites to dissociate themselves from other Muslims and elite groups. The paper questions the links between consumption and class, and stakes in the repartition of resources and lifestyles in contemporary urban milieus.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is based on the ethnography of consumption practices amongst Muslim élites in Abidjan (Ivory Coast). I propose to examine how certain consumption practices including the use of some objects and the frequentation of certain places correspond is associated with the display of faith, allowing certain members of the country urban Muslim élites to dissociate themselves from other Muslims and from other elite groups. These strategies (conscious and unconscious) of social and religious demarcation appear through the connection between a display of their socio-economic status, the demonstration of their insertion into specific Muslim networks and the assertion of their belongingness to contemporary forms of urban-ness. Ostentation is central to these processes of identification. The case of Muslim elites in Abidjan raises two issues that need to be addressed when the question of the emergence of so-called middle classes in contemporary African societies is considered. One the one hand, it highlight an assumed correlation between certain consumption practices and the idea of emergent African middle classes. As the case presented in this paper will show, this conceptual association needs to be questioned. On the other hand, the ethnographic material presented in this paper shows how processes of religious and socioeconomic demarcation are largely framed through the affirmation of cosmopolitan urban identities and practices. The appeal to translocality, urbanity and hydridity reveals some of the contemporary dynamics that mark the relationship between faith, materiality and group belonging. These dynamics point to some of the stakes of the repartition of resources and lifestyles in contemporary African urban milieus.

panel P124
Rising African Urban Middle Classes: Narrative Mirage or Social Reality?