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aspects of the symbolic transformation of contemporary Africa


Wim van Binsbergen

Second edition; first edition published in 1997 by the WOTRO (Netherlands Foundation for Tropical Research) Programme on Globalization and the construction of communal identities, The Hague: WOTRO, as Working Paper No. 3

(c) 1997, 1999 W.M.J. van Binsbergen

'When children play at trains their game is connected with their knowledge of trains. It would nevertheless be possible for the children of a tribe unacquainted with trains to learn this game from others, and to play it without knowing that it was copied from anything. One might say that the game did not make the same sense to them as to us.'

L. Wittgenstein, 1972, Philosophical investigations, tr. G.E.M. Anscombe, Oxford: Blackwell, reprint of third edition, first published 1953, p. 97e, 282.

Table of contents

1. Globalisation, boundaries, and identity

1.1. Introduction
1.2. The globalisation process
1.2.1. The global logic
1.2.2. Forms of self-organisation impose boundaries to the global flow and thus produce identity
1.2.3. An example: the religious laundering of globally mediated items

2. Introducing virtuality

2.1. Virtuality provisionally defined
2.2. Non-locality as given, locality as an actively constructed alternative, virtuality as the failure of such construction

3. The virtual village

3.1. Characterising African village society
3.2. the rural African community As problematic
3.3. Applying the concept of virtuality
3.4. Non-locality as the norm

4. The problem of meaning in African towns today

5. The virtual village in town (a): Girl's puberty ceremonies in urban Zambia

5.1. Historic ('traditional') village-derived ritual in African urban settings today, and its interpretation
5.2. Girls' initiation in the towns along the Zambian 'Line of Rail'

6. The village in town (b): 'Villagisation' and ethical renewal in Kinshasa and Lusaka

6.1. René Devisch on Kinshasa, Zaire: The aftermath of unwhitening
6.2. The oneiric village
6.3. Urban cultural consensus?
6.4. Urban ethical renewal and traditional ritual initiative: Kinshasa and Lusaka compared

7. The virtual village: Two recent discourses on witchcraft and healing

7.1. Introduction
7.2. A recent healing movement in Malawi
7.3. The status of 'witchcraft' as an analytical term
7.4. The absence of witchcraft in Chisupe's movement
7.5. The construction of a discursive context for analysis: (a) the village as the dominant locus of cosmological reference
7.6. The construction of a discursive context for analysis: (b) leaving the village and its cosmology behind, and opting for a globalising perspective
7.7. The possible lessons from a rural-orientated cosmological perspective on witchcraft
7.8. The felicitous addressing of virtuality
7.9. Conclusion: The rural-orientated perspective on witchcraft and healing as an anthropological trap?

8. The village in the village (b): A rural ethnic festival in western central Zambia as an instance of virtuality

8.1. Introducing the Kazanga festival
8.2. Virtuality in Kazanga

9. Conclusion



Illustrations are collected in the attached Photographic essay


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