Bayreuth African Studies Online
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- From an Anthropology of Astonishment to a Critique of Anthropology´s Common Sense: An Exploration of the Notion of Local Vitality in Africa (2005)
- This paper "From an Anthropology of Astonishment to a Critique of Anthropology´s Common Sense: An Exploration of the Notion of Local Vitality in Africa. In: Bayreuth African Studies Online, No. 1 (March 2005)" is the introduction to the volume "Between Resistance and Expansion. Explorations of Local Vitality in Africa" edited by Peter Probst and Gerd Spittler (Berlin, Hamburg, Münster: LIT, 2004). The volume grew from an international symposium on "Local Vitality and the Globalization of the Local" convened by the Humanities Collaborative Research Center "Local Action in Africa in the Context of Global Influences" (SFB/FK 560) at Bayreuth University in May 2002. The paper and the attached table of contents may stimulate interest in casting a look at the entire volume. Be it the vitality of African art, African popular culture or African religious ideas – invoking the notion of vitality has become a common practice in Africanist discourses. Most often, the reason for this is to emphasize the unexpected and astonishing strength of certain cultural fields of Africa. But what is really meant with the notion of local vitality beyond its metaphorical and mainly rhetorical usage, beyond the seemingly unforeseen and unexpected? The authors locate the answer to this question in a hidden, though powerful paradox. Celebrating local vitality thus means to celebrate the falsification of one of anthropology’s most cherished assumptions. When we ask about local vitality, we are asking about the vitality of weak units in the face of structurally different and more powerful ones. At the same time however, the invocation of vitality points to the problematic of such a perspective and the way how anthropology is constantly seeking to call this assumption into question. It is argued to acknowledge this paradox and move beyond established scenarios of subjugation and subjection by a critical investigation of the variations of local agency in the context of debates on identity and self-assertion, locality and appropriation, and rivalry and resistance.