Beyond Textual Analysis: Practice, Interacting Discourses, and the Experience of Distinction in Botswana

Essay Excerpt

My research interest in "the Basarwa" has been defined largely through my work on identity politics within the Tswapong region. The Basarwa, as I present in the first analytical segment of this essay, have been the "imagined other" for the processes of defining the Batswapong collective self. I use imagined because to this day most people in the Tswapong region have never met a person they define as a Mosarwa. I wish to understand how the two categories "Basarwa" and "Batswapong" have been defined within the shifting hierarchy of groups in central Botswana. To do so, I examine the way cultural difference has been constructed, debated, and experienced in one rural periphery in Botswana over the past two decades or more. 

My analysis of the construction of difference in Botswana enters two larger theoretical debates. The first has to do with the fact that the Basarwa, the Setswana term for those commonly identified as "Bushmen" or "San," have become the quintessential hunter-gatherers in popular and academic discourses. Ethnographic and theoretical work on hunting-gathering populations has seen dramatic (some say paradigmatic) shifts in focus and nature and is becoming an exciting ground for thinking about difference, about the making of social distinction. I will briefly review this body of work and position this article in relation to its central debates. The second theoretical concern I address is the relationship between textual analysis and analysis that looks at specific experiential circumstances and settings. I wish to frame the theoretical contribution of this essay within the recent body of work thathas called on anthropology's unique ability to go beyond textual analysis. (Motzafi-Holler, 522-523)

About the Author

Motzafi-Holler is a Professor at the University of Ben Gurion University. 

Her research interests include: Desert ethnographies (in the Israeli Negev, in African desert regions, and in Rajasthan, India), International development (A critical perspective with particular attention to the way gender is introduced into the "development" process), Non-western (postcolonial) feminist theories, Social inequality (the intersections of class, gender, ethnicity and sexual identity), The Politics of Identities, and Social space.

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