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Postscript: From Memory to Conviction and Action

  • Jane I. Guyer


African modernity surely comprises less pervasive outright violence than is suggested by popular representations ‐ the ‘New Barbarism’, as Paul Richards (1996) calls it. But by now it surely comprises more violent disjunctures than scholars like me, focusing on emergent and continuous change, have addressed. Uncertainty as a recurrent condition of the longue durée in productive and commercial life is rather different to theorize than violent ruptures in the very existence of collectivities or in people's capacity to imagine the future. It is one thing to link conditions to social organization, ecological knowledge and demographic regime (Iliffe 1995; Lesthaeghe 1989), for example to see the connection between the chronic historical vulnerability of the era of the slave trade and the political structures of the time (Ekeh 1990). It is really another to foreground each disruptive event in slow motion, one at a time, and ask how people created particular futures from particular pasts and presents. This shift of focus from chronic conditions to specific intrusions opens up in a new way the space between event history and the longue durée. It even puts the whole idea of the longue durée into temporary abeyance. Are long‐term processes better thought of as created by cumulative discrete and different memories and projections, perceptions and persuasions, rather than by responses straight out of the cultural/institutional repertoire? Or, at the very least, does the relationship of event to process need to be traced out explicitly?



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Bledsoe, Caroline H. 2002. Contingent Lives: fertility, time, and aging in West Africa. Chicago IL: University of Chicago Press.
Bledsoe, Caroline H., and Barney Cohen (eds). 1993. Social Dynamics of Adolescent Fertility in Sub‐Saharan Africa. Washington DC: National Academy Press.
Ekeh, Peter. 1990. ‘Social anthropology and two contrasting uses of tribalism in Africa’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 32: 660700.
Lesthaeghe, Ron J. 1989. ‘Production and reproduction in sub‐Saharan Africa: an overview of organizing principles’, in Lesthaeghe, Ron J. (ed.), Reproduction and Social Organization in Sub‐Saharan Africa. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Iliffe, John. 1995. Africans: the history of a continent. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.
Richards, Paul. 1996. Fighting for the Rain Forest: war, youth and resources in Sierra Leone. Oxford: James Currey; Portsmouth NH: Heinemann.

Postscript: From Memory to Conviction and Action

  • Jane I. Guyer


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