Seminar by Florence Bernault: Colonial Convergences: Assemblages of Power and Fantasy in Equatorial Africa (Gabon)


Video duration: 
1 h 26 min.

Portrait Florence BernaultThe longue durée history of personal capacity and spiritual agency in Gabon is the focus of this seminar. Anthropologists and political scientists have been scrutinizing the role of witchcraft in Africa as an agent of everyday life for the last fifteen years and how it is constitutive of African modernities (Geschiere 1997, Shaw 2002, Ellis & Ter Haar 2004, Asforth 2005, Niehaus 2012). However, few scholars have contextualized these convulsions within a longer history of power, capacity and misfortune (Behrent 2011). The argument presented by Florence Bernault in this seminar is twofold. Firstly, Bernault traces how colonialism was a crucial moment for reconfiguring ideas of personal and collective agency. Contemporary dilemmas about human and super-human power in Africa cannot be understood without reconstructing the fierce battles that occurred from the nineteenth century onwards over social reproduction, the value of the human body and the efficacy of machines, objects and charms. Secondly, Bernault does not view colonizers in Africa as global and rational agents but as intimate and intrusive actors in a mutual recomposing of shared cosmologies of power. 

Florence Bernault is a specialist on contemporary Central and Equatorial Africa and teaches African History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has worked extensively on colonialism and post-colonialism, particularly on African and colonial scholars’ engagement with current social crises in France. She is currently investigating the history of magic in colonial Gabon. Her publications include Démocraties ambigües en Afrique centrale: Congo-Brazzaville, Gabon, 1940-1965 (Paris, 1996); A History of Prison and Confinement in Africa (Portsmouth, NJ, 2003) and Ruptures Postcoloniales (Paris, 2010). This academic year she is a fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Studies (NIAS).


Date, time and location

13 February 2014
15.30 - 17.00
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Room 1A24 (first floor)