AAA Annual Meeting Program

AAA Annual Meeting Program Details

View Session Details
Paper Information:
This paper may be of particular interest to:  Practicing and Applied Anthropologists     Students
Type: Paper
Author: JUAN OBARRIO (Johns Hopkins University)   
Date/Time: Fri., 3:30 PM
Co-Author(s): JUAN OBARRIO (Johns Hopkins University) 
Abstract: Africa constantly re-emerges in the international political imagination and public culture as the place of apparent returns. Pervasive struggles over the possibility of sociality in the continent appear as figures of reversal of historical progress, through which memory, myth and metaphysics still form the bases of political community.

This paper explores two such figures of autochtony and locality: custom and land, understood as the time-space of recurrence and of the projection of mythic pasts into an open future. The paradox of custom is analyzed as source of conflict and also, through its mobilization by national and international elites, as remedy in post-conflict situations, where it might reproduce a previous alienation of vast populations. The aporia of land is studied as a place of return, but also of exodus, expulsion and exile. Thus, these objects constitute two moments of apparent recurrence and negation, between the violence that interrupts democracy and the force of law/ law of value that preserve democracy.

The discussion explores the potential of the Nietzschean motif of the Eternal Return of the Same for a study of the recall of custom and the return to the land, in order to elucidate aspects of the contemporary African impasse and predicaments. Is this process a vicious circle or do the cycles of difference and repetition imply a constant reconfiguration of future pasts? Is the African eternal return a deepening of negativity and decay, or, rather, an ultimate movement of affirmation of a politics of life?

Program Number: 3-0785
Session Sponsor: Co-Sponsored by Society for Cultural Anthropology and Society for Cultural Anthropology
Session Date/Time: Fri., 1:45 PM-5:30 PM
Organizer(s): BRIAN GOLDSTONE (Duke University) 
Chair(s): CHARLES PIOT (Duke University)  
View Session Details


If you have any questions about the program, please contact the AAA Meetings Department at