In this article, I seek to locate the anthropology of social recovery within the work of memory. Following a decade of violent armed conflict in Sierra Leone, displaced youth in a Pentecostal church write and perform plays that are silent on the subject of the war, but renarrate it in the idiom of spiritual warfare against a subterranean demonic realm known as the Underworld. Ideas of the Underworld are part of a local retooling of the Pentecostal deliverance ministry to address Sierra Leone’s years of war. Through their struggle against the Underworld, these Pentecostal youth reimagine Sierra Leone’s war, reshaping experiences of violence that have shaped them and thereby transforming demonic memory into Pentecostal memory. Just as their own physical displacement is not an entirely negative condition, their displacement of violent memory is enabling rather than repressive. By “forgetting” the war as a direct realist account and reworking it through the lens of the Underworld, they use war itself to re-member their lives. Although they do not lose their memories of terror and violence, they learn to transform these in ways that allow them to create a moral life course in which they are much more than weak dependents.
Cultural Anthropology has published multiple essays on violence, including: Arafaat A. Valiani's "Physical Training, Ethical Discipline, and Creative Violence: Zones of Self-Mastery in the Hindu Nationalist Movement" (2010); Didier Fassin's "The Humanitarian Politics of Testimony: Subjectification through Trauma in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" (2008); Charles L. Briggs' "Mediating Infanticide: Theorizing Relations between Narrative and Violence" (2007); Danny Hoffman's "The City as Barracks: Freetown, Monrovia, and the Organization of Violence in Postcolonial African Cities" (2007); and Anne Allison's "Cyborg Violence: Bursting Borders and Bodies with Queer Machines"(2001).
In addition, Cultural Anthropology has published multiple articles on memory, including: Ann Laura Stoler's "Imperial Debris: Reflections on Ruins and Ruination" (2008); Joseph Masco's "'Survival is Your Business': Engineering Ruins and Affect in Nuclear America" (2008); Christina Schwenkel's "Recombinant History: Transnational Practices of Memory and Knowledge Production in Contemporary Vietnam" (2006); Carole McGranahan's "Truth, Fear, and Lies: Exile Politics and Arrested Histories of the Tibetan Resistance" (2005); and Andrew Orta's "Burying the Past: Locality, Lived History, and Death in an Aymara Ritual of Remembrance" (2002).
Rosalind Shaw is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Tufts University. She is the author of Memories of the Slave Trade: Ritualand the Historical Imagination in Sierra Leone (University of Chicago Press, 2002) and co-editor of Localizing Transitional Justice: Interventions and Priorities After Mass Violence (Stanford University Press, 2010), Syncretism/Anti-Syncretism: The Politics of Religious Synthesis (London and New York: Routledge, 1994), and Dreaming, Religion and Society in Africa (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1992). Recent awards and fellowships include a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research and Writing Grant, a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellowship at the US Institute of Peace, and a Carr Center for Human Rights Policy Fellowship at Harvard University. She is a member of the Editorial Board of the International Journal of Transitional Justice. She is currently writing a book manuscript on practices of post-war memory, justice, and social recovery in Sierra Leone.
INTERVIEW WITH ROSALIND SHAW
Elizabeth Lewis: Who comprise youth and how the demographic is studied varies from social science to social science. In fact, this scholarly variation replicates the slipperiness that youth engenders as a social category, which makes it a rich analytic. How do you think anthropology is uniquely positioned to challenge or contribute to broader discourses of youth, and what potential do you envision for future work in this area? And, how does the anthropology of youth offer insight into broader enduring anthropological concerns?
Rosalind Shaw: For anthropologists, youth is a political rather than a demographic category. That’s a fundamental challenge to (for example) approaches in terms of universal developmental stages, or to theories that connect a “youth bulge” to war and terrorism. Because anthropologists are interested in how meanings emerge through practice and power, they’re in a strong position to follow the ways in which people invoke youth as a social category, invest it with meanings, and use those meanings to establish identities, hierarchies, techniques, exclusions, claims, and counterclaims. And reciprocally, one of the exciting features of the anthropology of youth is that it offers such a powerful lens for critically examining fundamental anthropological questions of social transformation, “newness,” and the future.
EL: The way in which youth has been studied has also shifted from a teleological approach of life stages to understanding youths’ situatedness, embedded in their given experiences. How do you suggest scholars approach age (or, specifically, youth) as an analytic that is particularly complex, multidimensional, fluid, and, perhaps, problematic? What do you see as the key areas for theoretical and practical development in this respect?
RS: We have to ask what kinds of life courses young people expect—and are expected to—follow. In terms of what categories are young people conceptualized, and how do they conceptualize themselves? What does it mean and what does it take to move from childhood to adulthood? Many anthropologists have explored how life courses are reshaped by broader political and economic transformations—neoliberal economic programs, armed conflict, projects of national democratization, technological change. What happens when expected paths to adulthood are blocked? How are young people’s life trajectories folded into adults’ imagination of national and global futures? And how do young people create alternative futures?
EL: As a collection of pieces written in the last decade, these articles are connected by the themes of globalization, the imaginary, markets, and activism. What do you consider to be the emerging themes in
today's studies of youth? And how do you see the anthropology of youth being relevant to the contemporary moment and speaking to significant current events for instance, the protests sweeping through North Africa and the Middle East?
RS: For some time “youth in crisis” has been a dominant theme, especially in Africa. With recent political and economic crises, “youth” has become an indefinitely extended category as the possibility of attaining adulthood recedes further and further away in the future. Without denying this predicament, this approach is beginning to be modified by explorations of how young people reimagine adulthood, or create new paths to it—as well as by a focus on memory and history that unsettles assumptions about the life course in a supposedly stable past that contrasts with an unstable, postcolonial, globalized present.
Another emerging theme is that of how youth as a category engages ideas of citizenship, political agency, visions of national development, and fears about the failure of the state. Representations of youth as political actors sweeping away the old corrupt order are very prominent in reports of the current protests in and beyond North Africa and the Middle East. Here I think an anthropological approach might provide a needed complexity, given that “youth” does not denote a homogenous category with the same interests and the same kinds of power and capacity, either within or across nations. Nor are the current revolts detached either from the activism of previous generations or from collaboration between older and younger generations in the present.
EL: What drew you to the topic of youth?
RS: It arose out of my focus on Pentecostalism. I returned to Freetown in 2001, when Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war seemed to be coming to an end at last. I was interested in how people were rebuilding their lives and relationships after the conflict, and wanted to look at Pentecostal churches as one kind of site for this work of social repair. A friend of mine was a member of the Pentecostal church I call “GP Ministries,” and took me along. I found that young people—especially those displaced by the war—were the most active members. They had forged alternative homes and families through the church. I was especially intrigued by how they used prayer and the idiom of spiritual warfare both to work on painful memories of violence and to remake themselves as moral actors.
EL: If you were to write this CA article today, what arguments would you continue to make, and what would you change?
RS: I’d keep my core argument about the displacement of memory, my focus on the Underworld as a vehicle for reimagining the war, and certainly Matthew’s play as a vision of moral middle-class adulthood. But I think I’d also explore connections to my earlier work on memories of the slave trade and the colonial era in Sierra Leone, since—as Nicolas Argenti has demonstrated for the Cameroon Grassfields—youth were historically targeted for enslavement and colonial forced labor, and responded to recurring social exclusion through (among other forms) movements and memory practices drawing upon Christianity. I’d also like to examine whether “displaced” Pentecostal memory was reshaped by the direct, “literal” narrative memories sought by Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), since some GP youth were subsequently influenced by the TRC hearings and their testimonial memory practices two years after my initial fieldwork in GP Ministries.
EL: Your article seeks to further "an anthropology of social repair," through its analysis of memory and reconstruction. Since the piece's publication, how has your research on social repair changed and developed?
RS: Over the three years after my GP ministries fieldwork, I carried out research on the reintegration of young ex-combatants by NGOs and local communities, on Sierra Leone’s TRC, and on a national post-TRC reconciliation initiative. My work shifted, then, from a Sierra Leonean church to national and international processes of post-conflict justice and reintegration, while my field locations moved from the capital city to smaller provincial towns and rural communities. But both memory practices and children and youth have remained central. For example, “truth telling,” the practice of publicly narrating remembered events from the violent past, was cast by the TRC and many NGOs as a practice that would help realize a desired order of relations between the state and its citizens, reconstituting the nation and give it a peaceful future. These ideas of “mnemonic citizenship” are inextricably enmeshed with those of children and youth, both because young people are regarded as quintessential victims, and because they are viewed as emblematic of the national future. In all the sites in which I worked, actors employed different technologies of repair based on intersecting (and often contradictory) memory practices and multiple discourses about childhood and youth.
Scene from a healing at Frontline Gospel Church, Benin City, Nigeria.
Mission to London service by Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, Pastor of the Word of Life Bible Church in Warri, Nigeria.
"Fire in the Word" (Nigerian film).
"Dwelling in Darkness and Sorrow" (Nigerian film).
SELECTED PUBLICATIONS BY THE AUTHOR
2010: Localizing Transitional Justice: Interventions and Priorities After Mass Violence. Co-edited with Lars Waldorf and Pierre Hazan. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
2009. “The Production of ‘Forgiveness’: God, Justice, and State Failure in Postwar Sierra Leone.” In Kamari Maxine Clarke and Mark Goodale (eds.), Justice in the Mirror: Law, Power and the Making of History, pp. 208-226. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
2007. “Memory Frictions: Localizing Truth and Reconciliation in Sierra Leone.” International Journal of Transitional Justice 1:183-207.
2002. Memories of the Slave Trade: Ritual and the Historical Imagination in Sierra Leone. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Argenti, Nicolas. 2007. The Intestines of the State: Youth, Violence, and Belated Histories in the Cameroon Grassfields. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Cheney, Kristen. 2007. Pillars of the Nation: Child Citizens and Ugandan National Development. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Cole, Jennifer. 2010. Sex and Salvation: Imagining the Future in Madagascar. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Cole, Jennifer, and Deborah Durham (eds.). 2008. Figuring the Future: Globalization and the Temporalities of Children and Youth. Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press.
Sommers, Marc. 2001. Fear in Bongoland: Burundi Refugees in Urban Tanzania. Oxford: Berghahn Books.
"No Peace for the Wicked," courtesy of Rosalind Shaw
Rosalind Shaw profile picture, http:ase.tufts.edu/Anthropology/Shaw.html.
"Healing Exorcism 1," courtesy of Rosalind Shaw.
"Intercessory Prayer 2," courtesy of Rosalind Shaw.
"GP Ministries' Services," courtesy of Rosalind Shaw.
Aerial photograph of Freetown, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Sierra_Leone/Selected_picture/2.