The Center for Research and Studies on the Countries of Eastern Africa (CREPAO)
Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour
Conference on “Sorcery, Literacy and Imagery in Africa” 27th-28th March 2009/ Call for Papers
This conference seeks to examine the relationship between sorcery and literacy in colonial and post-colonial Africa. Sorcery has long been associated with the rural and the oral. This is no longer the case. Over the last 15 years, scholarship on sorcery – particularly that addressing arenas of “modernity” like the city – has multiplied exponentially. Following this trend, some researchers have even interpreted sorcery as a mode of acclimatization to and vernacularization of the state. Sorcery has been situated equally in the more complex domain of global capitalism.
Sorcery has traditionally been associated with orality because it is almost always linked to speech acts. But, at the heart of “modernity,” one inevitably finds literacy. Jack Goody’s seminal work on how oral and written modes of communication produce different effects on religion, law, and economy invites a range of questions about the relationship between literacy and sorcery.
To what degree does writing shape cognition (Rosaldo, 1995)? How, in turn does literacy influence the evolution of sorcery, or not? How does literacy act as a vehicle both to contest and to legitimate sorcery? Which specific types of written communication are typically mobilized in service of sorcery? What sorts of knowledge do practices linking literacy and sorcery draw upon? Has literacy expanded the audience for sorcery?
Sorcery engages not only with knowledge and information, but also with power. As such, this line of questioning enables a fresh understanding of the colonial and post-colonial, especially in its function as a “transformateur sacral” (M. Gauchet). Similarly, such an approach sheds light on how the churches, great promoters of literacy in Africa, consider sorcery’s appropriation of literacy.
At the same time, literacy has rendered sorcery a subject of literary representations that both use sorcery as an analytic to theorize the condition of the world and as a descriptor of everyday life. The force of such representations is in the way in which they allow access to certain “truths” of sorcery. Contrary to anthropological discourse that has situated itself in a position of exteriority that has permitted it to put forth sociocultural hypotheses about cultures or societies in which sorcery occurs, these novelistic representations have other aims. What shape have literary representations of sorcery taken? What are the stakes involved in such representations?
Center for Research and Studies on the Countries of Eastern Africa (CREPAO)
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