17.12. 2018


31.12. 2018


Dr. Peter Kneitz


Call for Papers

Workshop at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology (MLU Halle), 30 – 31 May 2019

The world – is it just a world of self-perpetuating crisis and violent transformation? Contemporary scholarly analysis and media productions alike dominantly seem to suggest just this as a commonplace. Society and its history, following such arguments, tends to be understood as a mere sequence of socio-political conflicts of all kinds, of violence accompanying these conflicts, and of dramatic changes, on all levels of local, national, and global culture.

The workshop, with a focus on Madagascar and the related nearer and faraway Malagasy Worlds, invites to investigate critically such running ideas of human unrest and the catastrophic, and to elaborate (or rediscover) elements of a very different understanding: that behind the theatre of hotly debated, open, and cyclical conflicts, of all the well-described changes and transformations, lies a hidden realm of continuity, too easily taken for granted. It suggests that the story of humanity, of its societies and cultures, is based as well and foremost on the script of relationality, perhaps arranged and structured anew by each arriving generation, but very solid with its fundamental claim to assure continuation. In short, it suggests that to unveil the dynamics of solidarity might provide a somehow forgotten backbone for the understanding of society, including the cherished discussion of the negotiation of conflicts and crisis.
Madagascar offers an intriguing case for the intellectual challenge sought. It is part of that cultural-geographical, especially southern and post-colonial, area that has become in the global imaginary, among other and contradictory perceptions, a main “hotspot” of enduring crisis, of “disorder” and failed development, at least in the dominant European-globalized perception. One might summarize this view roughly as taking the whole African continent, including Madagascar, as remaining, for a thousand years, on a “famished road” (Ben Okri) of a disaster-ridden history, which includes, one might add suspiciously, the view of Africa as the prey of just that (and many other comparable) imaginations. The “story” of historical and contemporary Malagasy disorder includes, one might recall, the following elements: the island has been for centuries under Arab and European influence and connected slavery, until becoming the subject of imperialist European politics in the 19th century and, in 1896, a French colony. Its independence since 1960 is characterized nowadays usually by the terms of “cyclical crisis” and by an unprecedented pauperization that began about 1970 and continues to today. Consequently, this country, with a population today of roughly 25 million, has for a long time been listed in the United Nations’ relevant statistics among the lowest ranks, while at the same time it is dotted with important resources. This paradox is usually explained by hinting at the well-known mélange of a dysfunctional state, high levels of corruption, a self-enriching elite, a rapidly growing but badly educated population, a problematic colonial past, and other arguments alike.

The workshop proposes, however, to review and discuss such a presentation of Madagascar as a pertinent case of “societies of disorder” with the general perspective sketched above of continuity, relationality, and the dynamics of solidarity generated. This does not mean simply to play off the “bad” elements of disorder merely by choosing more positive examples or by selecting those “lighthouse elements” that might engender the long-awaited ascent toward economic prosperity or toward the sometimes enthusiastically proclaimed “African century.” It invites, rather, to emphasize and to (re)discover those silent and long-existing elements of historical and contemporary stability standing in contrast or even in contradiction to the apocalyptic images of never-ending disaster. What short- and long-term strategies and structures, one is taken then to inquire, are elaborated to assure, often in the context of an unequal power balance, solidarity and continuity of life? What historical and contemporary patterns, dynamics, and changes are observable on a regional or national level, with possible lessons for the new debate on migration? How do the fundamental processes of Malagasy socialization, emotional development, and education prepare and guide the social patterns observed? And how is it possible to describe, in comparative terms, the particularity of Malagasy forms of solidarity and relationality?
Beyond these critical investigations related specifically to the Malagasy World, another and more general topic appears as well on the horizon of the suggested agenda: that of a justemerging debate that critically reviews the dominant discourse of never-ending crisis, of disorder and its related prophecies, and of a new world order constructed around the normative paradigm of conflict solution, appeasement, and peacemaking. Is such a discourse not, one might ask, most plausibly to be understood, along with other possible causes, as just another element of the process of modernization and even as an aspect of an age-old hybrid cultural thread, playing on the chords of decay and collapse? Discussing, elaborating, and deconstructing aspects of such an “end of the world” discourse could make it possible to rearrange some of the sketched exaggerations: that, even while change, crisis, and transformation remain virulent and very important elements, this should not lead observers to overlook the persistence of – historically changing – core elements of continuity, relationality, and solidarity.
Both established and emerging researchers of social anthropology, history, or political sciences, and all kind of scholars connected to the study of the Malagasy Worlds (on and off the island of Madagascar) are invited to reflect on the topics outlined in this abstract in empirically rich and well-theorized papers on the topics sketched, with the following (nonexhaustive, overlapping) themes as a basis for discussion:

• An investigation into the rich diversity of structures and networks of contemporary and historical expressions of solidarity, relationality, and continuity of the Malagasy Worlds. This might include, among many other aspects, a look at kinship, family bonds, or the importance of ancestors and burial practices (such as the famadihana of central Madagascar), all kind of networks of solidarity and mutual aid, the importance of religious ideas and structures for engendering connectivity, the construction of identity and inner-group consent or of collaboration or concepts of mutual aid between groups, the role of modern social networks established, or an elaboration of the growing diaspora as well as of structures of solidarity invented by diverse immigration groups (Arabs, Indo-Pakistani, Europeans, Chinese), in history as well as in contemporary Madagascar;

• Normative ideas of mutual solidarity and consent on the local and national levels, including the process of institutionalization of the idea of fihavanana, and the ongoing heritagization of an authentic past;

• A look at basic patterns of Malagasy socialization and its effects, in comparison to the tendencies of isolation and/or autonomy of Western/Modern/global socialization;

• An analysis of long-standing patterns and dynamics of continuity, with respect to identity and identity groups and social or political forms;

• A theoretical reflection on “catastrophic” thinking and its effects on the heuristic understanding of Malagasy or African/post-colonial realities.
The workshop aims to contribute to a deeper understanding of the forms, structures, and historical dynamics of solidarity and relationality of the Malagasy Worlds, including their limits and borders, and to contextualize this understanding within the ongoing discourse on the “crisis mode.” The convenors welcome papers looking into the important Malagasy diversity of local or national dynamics, focusing on international and transnational connections as well as analyzing longer periods or preferring a more structurally or theoretically based viewpoint.

The papers presented are intended for further publication in a collective volume to be organized by the participants.

Peter Kneitz (Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology, U Halle) and
Gabriel Rantoandro (Department of History, U Antananarivo)