University of Cambridge > > Centre of African Studies Occasional Talks > A Global Conjuncture of Belonging? Autochthony and Its Different Trajectories since the Post-Cold War Moment

A Global Conjuncture of Belonging? Autochthony and Its Different Trajectories since the Post-Cold War Moment

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This lecture takes place in connection with the ANR XenAfPol Conference at the Centre of African Studies

The recent revival of the notion of autochthony – elusive, shifting and yet powerful – offers strategic insights into what I came to call (after Tania Murray Li) ‘the global conjuncture of belonging’ that seems to be characteristic for ‘the post-Cold War moment’ (Charles Piot). The idea of such a conjuncture – apparently different trends that all converge in making belonging an overriding concern – may help to understand present day’s uneasy articulation of increasing mobility and xenophobia. In this context autochthony serves as a buzzword since it expresses a kind of primordial form of belonging. Yet it follows highly different trajectories in different parts of the world, assuming shifting connotations. Despite such shifts the notion seems to have great mobilizing power in variable contexts. Striking is especially the paradox between its promise of basic security – how could you belong more if you can claim to come from the soil? – and the haunting uncertainty it expresses in practice. Stephen Jackson rightly speaks of ‘nervous languages.’ Most autochthony discourses, despite all differences, seem to be haunted by the fear of traitors hiding inside – the flipside of which is the constant risk of being unmasked as a ‘fake autochthon.’ A comparison of the different trajectories of the notion in Africa, but also in Europe and elsewhere in the world, may help to understand its different potentialities. It can also address the question as to why the preoccupation with belonging and exclusion has become so central now, in a world that thinks it is globalizing.

This talk is part of the Centre of African Studies Occasional Talks series.

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