P002 – Material Culture of Politics: Contestation, Resistance, Revolt?
8 July, 16:00-17:30

Dorman Sara / University of Edinburgh


In recent decades we have seen a diversification of political movements, NGO campaigns, and much exhortation aimed at voters, drinkers, and those at risk of contracting the AIDS virus to change their behaviour.  All of these have produced pamphlets, posters, t-shirts and much more to communicate their programmes. States have also intensified their use of visual iconography, imagery and commemoration of national events. Yet the material culture of these movements is often ephemeral – rapidly consumed, but rarely preserved or studied, despite it having much to tell us about how societies contest, resist and shape political cultures and institutions. A more nuanced account of African politics – one that takes seriously the role of discourse, image, and culture in shaping African encounters with the political in all its shapes and forms – has made good use of theatre, music, dance and literature as sources. We seek to extend this approach to material culture, bringing together students of art and aesthetics with those of political and social sciences.

Culture matérielle du politique: contestation, résistance, révolte

Ces dernières années ont vu une multiplication de mouvements politiques et campagnes des ONG exhortant des publics aussi divers que les électeurs, les alcooliques, ou les personnes identifiées comme particulièrement à risque face au VIH à modifier leur comportement. Tout ceci a produit nombre de dépliants, d’affiches, de t-shirts destinés à communiquer sur ces programmes. De leur côté, les Etats ont également intensifié leur usage de l’iconographie, de l’imagerie et multiplié les commémorations d’événements nationaux. Toutefois, la culture matérielle de ces mouvements est souvent éphémère, rapidement consommée, est rarement conservée ou étudiée, bien qu’elle ait beaucoup à nous apprendre quant aux formes de résistance et de protestations des sociétés, et qu’elle façonne les cultures et les institutions politiques. Nous souhaitons contribuer à une analyse plus nuancée des jeux de pouvoir en Afrique : au-delà du discours, de l’image et de la culture, l’étude des rapports des Africains avec la politique dans toutes ses formes doit aussi tenir compte des sources telles que le théâtre, la musique, la danse et la littérature. Cette approche de la culture matérielle réunira des chercheurs issus des études de l’art et de l’esthétique comme des sciences politiques et sociales.

Paper 1

Oduro-Frimpong Joseph / Ashesi University

Photoshop Politics in Ghana’s Fourth Republic

In contemporary Ghana’s political culture, one witnesses a ‘new’ form of ‘visual politics’ enacted via digital platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp. Within these spaces, members of the various political parties use photoshopped images to re-present and discuss serious national issues like corruption, cyberfraud and youth unemployment as well as perceptions. This form of political engagement not only visually documents key sociopolitical issues but also mobilize new political publics most of whom are not formally literate but very astute with digital media use. In this presentation, I examine this recent form of ‘digital political engagement’ within the complicated entanglement of popular media genres. One of my key arguments is that to fully grasp Ghanaian youth political engagement one has to move beyond the confines of formal institutional centers such political talk shows on radio and television.

Paper 2

Bouilly Emmanuelle / Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne

Material culture in women’s public performances in Senegal. Political and NGOs’ paraphernalia as a singular repertoire of action.

In 2006, in the surburbs of Dakar, 350 mothers mobilized themselves against the illegal emigration of their sons to Europe. Not only do they voice their grievances about this scourge, but they also publicly express concerns and make claims on broader issues such as women’s conditions of life, the economic crisis, or the failure of the State. They do not mobilize themselves as usually mentioned by social movement studies. Indeed, they organize, or take the opportunity of public rallies organized by politicians or NGOs, to express their dissent notably through material goods.

Based on an extensive ethnographical research collecting (images of) products (clothing, fabrics, leaflets, posters, banners, buses, chairs, kitchen utensils etc.), this paper will bring the analysis of material culture back in the studies of collective action in Africa. It will show how material culture embodies a singular repertoire of action used in both political and development fields, and represents daily forms of resistance and protest.

Paper 3

Chonka Peter / University of Edinburgh

Stonework, sesame seeds and the Suuq: discourses of ‘Somali’ economic nationalism in Harakat Al Shabaab Al Mujahideen’s online propaganda videos

In 2013/2014 media wings of Harakat Al Shabaab Al Mujahideen produced and disseminated online several documentary videos exploring aspects of Somali economic culture in the context of their wider Jihad waged against foreign occupiers and an ‘apostate’ Federal Government. These videos feature quintessentially ‘Somali’ occupations and narratives of economic self-determination as an alternative to aid dependence and the allegedly nefarious interference of external powers in Somalia. HSM’s media strategy has been analysed in relation to international patterns of Jihadist militancy, focusing, for example, on the role of propaganda in recruitment of fighters from the Diaspora, but much less attention has been given to the presentation of explicitly ‘nationalist’ themes towards Somali speaking audiences. This paper analyses the iconography of these videos and examines the relevance of ethno-nationalist discourses in the highly fragmented political reality of modern S!
omalia. I
f one accepts the popular wisdom that HSM has been characterised by a split between factions with a more internationalist Jihadi outlook and those with a more pragmatic ‘nationalist’ worldview, then the discourses of this latter group (as hinted at by the themes of these ‘protest’ videos) require further analysis not only for a clearer understanding of the internal dynamics of the HSM insurgency but also in regards to the wider role of Somali ethno-nationalism in ongoing processes of state rebuilding.

Paper 4

Worden Sarah / National Museum of Scotland

The Chitenje:Dress and Politics in Malawi

Multi-coloured printed cotton fabrics are a conspicuous and popular item of dress in Malawi. Although these textiles may be tailored into more or less structured garments worn by either sex, more typically they are worn by women as simple wrap-around unstructured body coverings known in Chichewa as a chitenje (plural, zitenje). So ubiquitous is the chitenje and blouse combination that it has been referred to as Malawian ‘traditional’ or ‘national dress’ [Henderson & Gilman 2004: 26]. Within the myriad of fashionable patterned cloth available in Malawi today is a category of cloth printed with designs produced with the aim of promotion, education and commemoration. This paper will present examples of cloth commissioned by different interest groups including political parties, religious organisations and NGOs to consider this type of cloth in the expression of identity in daily Malawian life. The power of dress as ‘an incisive political language capable of unifying, differentiating, challenging, contesting and dominating’ (Allman 2004:1) frames this investigation of such cloths. This paper recognises clothing and dress as additional and alternative to the written archive, as a dynamic category of material culture which documents social change through imagery and visual iconography. The paper will draw on recent initiatives to form museum collections of these ‘political cloths’ as part of the construction of an archive of the material culture of political discourse in Malawi.

Paper 5

Mweso Clement / National Archives of Malawi

Legacy of one party dictatorship: collective memory and contestation in Malawi 1994-2004

This paper examines contestations, deployments, uses and role of collective and historical memory in public discourse during and after the political transition in Malawi between 1994 and 2004. It does this by exploring how Malawian civil society and new political rulers invoked the same repertoires of collective memory of post-independence authoritarian dictatorship to very different ends. On the one hand, civil society actors invoked a shared memory of social and political repression during Kamuzu Banda’s thirty year dictatorship to contest democratic era moves by the new governing party to introduce anti-democratic constitutional amendments whilst, on the other hand, the new political rulers deployed the same collective memory to justify and morally legitimize their proposed constitutional changes to extend the terms of office. Drawing from theoretical debates in the field of memory studies mainly in the disciplines of politics and history to frame the argument, the pa!
per argue
s that as much as collective memory is a critical, composite and shifting shared discursive resource from which societies draw to narrate, negotiate and make political claims, it is also mobilized in multiple and contradictory ways, including by ruling classes and institutions that influence the public sphere. These multiple contestations on the meanings of collective memory are, the paper contends, crucial for entrenching a democratic citizenry in public discourse and political practice.

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