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Cluster of Excellence EXC 2052 - "Africa Multiple: reconfiguring African Studies"

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Public Lecture - Basil Ibrahim - Four Funerals, and a Wedding: Social Life in the Wake of Rural Impossibility

22.07.2019, 18.30

Four Funerals, and a Wedding: Social Life in the Wake of Rural Impossibility

Public Lecture by Basil Ibrahim

Monday 22. July, 18:30, Iwalewahaus

As the possibilities for economic reproduction based on cash crop economies and remittances in rural western Kenya are increasingly foreclosed, this talk explores the replacement of older social collectivities by new forms of association. In Kakamega, ancestral farmland has been gradually transformed from a cultural asset that sustained social life and bound families in a web of interdependency across space and time. An ideology of productivity enacted through cash cropping and individual investment has made this farmland into exclusive private property. Subsequent land transfers introduce new settlers into villages whilst dispersing family through outward migration. Conflicts over this practice challenge the limits of patriarchal authority and attenuate the ritual practices of shared welfare that once summoned kin to ceremonies of social reproduction.

Through an analysis of four funerals and a wedding, the talk explores a growing chasm between dogma and practice as roles traditionally assigned to the clan are taken up by intimate strangers. What is retained of the older forms of social life? Who contributes to and shows up at funeral ceremonies, who is invited to weddings? What do the performances of memory at funerals reveal about the evolution of the new rural? And importantly, who is left out of celebrations as the expansive moral economy of old gives way to a new economy of desert? 

These events serve as key moments through which one can look past the categories that have long defined the study of rural life; kinship and ethnic community for example. They ask that we attend instead to the contingent relationships shaping collective life in the wake of rural impossibility, i.e. as the entwinement of community to the land is frayed. What are the communities of belief and practice that are generated when clan ideology can no longer manage the dynamics of social reproduction? More broadly, then, the talk explores how the units of social life are iteratively produced in the relationship between economic shifts and social forms.

Basil Ibrahim is an independent scholar based in Nairobi, Kenya. His research and practical work have focused on the investigation and sustenance of voluntary associations in reaction to the vulnerabilities produced by late capitalism. 

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