The Perils of Belonging: Autochthony, Citizenship, and Exclusion in Africa and Europe

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Despite being told that we live in a rapidly globalizing world, more and more people have begun to assert their identities in ways that are deeply rooted in the local. These claims of autochthony-"born from the soil"-seek to establish an irrefutable, primordial right to belong and are often employed in political attempts to exclude outsiders. In The Perils of Belonging, Peter Geschiere traces the concept of autochthony back to classical Athens and incisively explores the ambiguities of this ostensibly self-evident notion in two contemporary contexts: Africa, particularly Cameroon, and Europe, notably the Netherlands.
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Editorial Reviews


“In this theoretically stimulating book, Geschiere queries the discourse of autochthony as it has emerged in African contexts (chiefly Cameroon) and Europe (chiefly the Netherlands and Flanders). . . . [He] offers an intriguing assessment of the unintended consequences of forms of local empowerment that seek to bypass the state as prompting xenophobic and potentially violent results.”—Choice
Daniel Jordan Smith

“This is an ambitious, astute, and timely effort to address one of the most interesting and potentially troubling trends in our contemporary world, namely, the rise of politically charged passions about belonging. Geschiere’s judicious and incisive analysis offers a model of how an academic investigation can shed light on a major global problem.”
Gyanendra Pandey

“Peter Geschiere’s new book is a powerful and sustained investigation of claims to ‘original’ belonging, the multiple and shifting grounds on which these may be made, and the exclusivist and often destructive politics to which they have given rise. As such, it is a subtle and sensitive ode to the migrant that is in all of us, however early our settlement in particular climes and places, and to the ‘stranger’ that any of us might become in troubled political contexts.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226289656
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 4/30/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Geschiere is professor of African anthropology at the University of Amsterdam and the author of The Modernity of Witchcraft: Politics and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa.

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Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments ix

Chapter I Introduction: Autochthony-the Flip Side of Globalization? I

A Primordial yet Global Form of Belonging? 2

Autochthony's Genealogy: Some Elements 6

Autochthony Now: Globalization and the Neoliberal Turn 16

Autochthony and the Tenacity of the Nation-State 21

Historical Construction, Political Manipulation and Emotional Power 26

Approach: From Identity to Subjectivation and Aesthetics 31

Chapter Overview 35

Chapter 2 Cameroon: Autochthony, Democratization, and New Struggles over Citizenship 39

Belonging to a Nonexistent Province 41

Elite Associations and Autochthony: Different Degrees of Citizenship? 43

The "Sea People" Protected by the New Constitution 49

Debates in the Cameroonian Press 53

Autochthony's "Naturalness": The Funeral as a Final Test for Belonging 55

A Tortuous History 57

An Empty Discourse with Segmentary Implications 63

Conclusion 64

Chapter 3 Cameroon: Decentralization and Belonging 66

The East and the New Importance of the Forest 69

The New Forest Law 72

Participation in Practice 74

The Elusive Community 76

The Community as Stakeholder: Belonging and Exclusion 81

Village or Grande Famille? 83

The Halfhearted Belonging of the External Elites 86

Discovering Allogenes at Ever Closer Range 89

Conclusion 94

Chapter 4 African Trajectories 97

Ivory Coast: Identification and Exclusion 98

Elsewhere in Africa 117

"Pygmy" Predicaments: Can Only Citizens Qualify as Autochthons? 124

Chapter 5 Autochthony in Europe: The Dutch Turn 130

The Dutch Switch: From Multiculturalism to Cultural Integration 134

Overview: How theNetherlands Became an "Immigration Country" 137

National Consensus and Its History-the Dutch Way 139

Alternative Solutions 142

A More Forceful Integration 144

Allochtonen: A New Term on the Dutch Scene 147

Elusive Autochthony 153

History and Culture 155

Comparisons 162

Chapter 6 Cameroon: Nation-Building and Autochthony as Processes of Subjectivation 169

Nation-Building as an Everyday Reality 172

Rituals of Belonging: The Funeral at Home as a Celebration of Autochthony 190

Chapter 7 Epilogue: Can the Land Lie? Autochthony's Uncertainties in Africa and Europe 212

Varying Patterns of Nation-Building in Africa and Their Implications 213

Autochthony and the Search for Ritual in Europe 218

Notes 225

Bibliography 263

Index 279

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