Social and cultural history of the western Sahara, Politics of state- and nation building, Identity and Belonging, Ethnicity and Race, Social Movements
Making up a people – Ethnogenesis among the Haratin of Mauritania
The project engages with the Mauritanian Haratin’s (Hassaniya-Arabic-speaking Blacks of slave origin) struggles for emancipation and citizenship in a post-slavery society and explores the thesis of an ethnogenetic process in this context. Whereas the Haratin category in the hassanophone (Bidhan) milieus of the western Saharan region traditionally refers to a specific social identity within a hierarchically stratified, kinship-based society, namely that associated with (recently) manumitted slaves (said to be of “Black African/pagan origin”, contrary to the “Arab/Muslim” origins of the elite strata), local activists claim that the Haratin should be recognized as a distinct “ethnic” or “national” community (distinct from the “Black African” ethnicities of the Wolof, Soninké and Halpulaaren and from the hassanophone “Arab-Berber” Bidhan, with whom they are traditionally associated). I want to explore the societal processes and larger political contexts that led to the formulation of these claims, interrogate their discursive framing, and investigate how they are received by different groups within Mauritanian society. The conceptual framework relies mainly on social constructivist notions of ethnicity and the heuristic possibilities they entail for a comprehensive view of the local sociopolitical context. In this sense, the project aims at producing an ethnographic account of the discursive and performative dimensions of contemporary Haratin identity in Mauritania, combined with an in-depth analysis of the historical processes involved in the development and articulation of an “ethnic consciousness” among the Mauritanian Haratin.
For this purpose, I will conduct multi-sited qualitative ethnographic fieldwork in several research locations in Mauritania. Ultimately, I want to integrate my empirical findings into a larger historical and comparative perspective on processes of group formation in the context of colonialism, (post)slavery, and postcolonial state- and nation building. Beyond this theoretical debate around the creation and transformation of collective identities the research will contribute also to academic and non-academic debates on histories and contemporary realities of slavery and race in North Africa and the West African Sahel.
Further information (CV and publications)