'Interroger les morts pour critiquer les vivants, Ou éxotisme morbide?' Encounters with African funerary practices in Francophone anthropology

Lamont, Mark. 2009. 'Interroger les morts pour critiquer les vivants, Ou éxotisme morbide?' Encounters with African funerary practices in Francophone anthropology. Africa: Journal of the International African Institute, 79(3), pp. 455-462. ISSN 0001-9720 [Article]

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Abstract or Description

In the past decade, there has been a flurry of ethnographic and historical writing about death and dying in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa published no less than thirteen articles between 2001 and 2009 on African ways of death, and other journals such as African Studies Review (2005) and the Journal of African History (2008) have dedicated special issues under the rubric. Additional scholarship has also appeared in edited volumes (Droz and Maupeu 2003; Jindra and Noret, forthcoming), tempered by a surprisingly limited number of published monographs (de Witte 2001; Ngimbi 1997). Taken together, this is a striking output and raises several initial questions about academic vogue, on the one hand, and historicity, on the other.

To attend to the first question, death is a 'sexy' subject, in quite a number of theoretical and empirical senses. But it is also exceptionally difficult to study, no less so than sexuality. Louis Vincent Thomas, francophone theorist of funerary ideologies in African societies, explicitly made a connection between l'ethno-thanatologie and sexuality without leaving an ethnographic guide to this intimate relationship (Thomas 1982). As far as ethnography goes, sexuality enters into African death practices in new and emergent conduct at funerals in Kinshasa (Ngimbi 1997) and the politicization of sexuality in post-apartheid South Africa (Posel 2005), just to recall a couple of examples. However 'sexy' the topic may be, I am not convinced that death's current place in African studies is simply a matter of being in fashion. If the volume of recent research is anything to go by, then it can be said that something is happening in Africa that commands our attention.

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01 Nov 2010 11:23

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12 Mar 2013 09:31

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