Selfish Funerals: Negotiating Individualization, Reciprocity, and Social Status in Rural Africa

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 10:00
Location: Hörsaal III (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Wolfram LAUBE, Center for Development Research, University of Bonn, Germany
In the past the deep entrenchment of the individuum into layered levels of social embedding - the family, the lineage, the clan, the 'tribe' - was perceived to be the driver of of social cohesion, but also a means to generate intergenerational continuity, economic reciprocity, and the means to manage manifold risks emanating from economic, political and environmental uncertainties in rural Africa. Of course, rural Africa has been undergoing drastic changes and colonialism, proselytization, new patterns of migration, population growth, the prolieferation of 'modern' education, and the ongoing commodification of resources and commercilization of agriculture have had an comprehensive impact on social relations, the self-positioning of the individuum, and patterns of individualization. Long-term empirical research on education, social mobility and perceptions of success among young people in rural northern Ghana shows how individual aspirations and social committment are reflected, negotiated, and re-integrated in  the lifes of a translocal rural-urban precariate. Commercialization, social diversification, and growing consumerism seem to promote individualization, while weak official institutions and the absence of comprehensive formal social security networks make the engagement in networks of reciprocity, often beyond kinship networks, paramount. Communitarian ideals are enshrined in ideas about social status that are linked to the individuals ability to sympathize and share, epitomizing in the realm of funerals, where the individuals value is measured by the contribution -relative to its capabily- it is making, or the the decgree of support and attention its own funeral is getting. While modernization and the differentiation of the society seems to promote individualization, perceptions of social status hinging on the the individual's performance in reciprocal networks negotiates this tendency. This raises the question whether the nexus between (post-)modernity and individualization, often perceived to be quasi -evolutionary, is conclusive, or if other constellations potentially exist.