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Will be given by

Dr Joost Fontein, Lecturer in Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh

“Graves, Ruins & Belonging: Towards an anthropology of proximity”

Thursday 17 September 2009 at 5.30 pm in the Stevenson Theatre, Clore Education Centre, the British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG

All welcome. Admission free without ticket. Refreshments afterwards.

The lecture will be preceded by the RAI’s AGM at 4.30 pm. All are welcome to the AGM; only RAI Fellows may vote.

Enquiries to: RAI, 50 Fitzroy St, London W1T 5 BT; tel 020 7387 0455


This paper uses ethnographic material collected during research around Lake Mutirikwi in southern Zimbabwe, to explore how the affective presence of graves and ruins, which materialise past and present occupations and engagements with/in the landscape (by different African clans, colonial and postcolonial state institutions, war veterans, chiefs and spirit mediums as well as white commercial farmers), are entangled in complex, localised contests over autochthony and belonging, even as they are finely implicated in wider re-configurations of authority and state-craft. Situating these localised and highly contested assertions, discourses and practices of autochthony and belonging in the context of national re-definitions of citizenship and belonging as articulated in the ZANU PF’s rhetoric of ‘patriotic history’, this paper explores how these contests are made real through the consequential materiality of milieu. Although the central hook will be the very prominent role that graves, both older ancestral ‘mapa’ and very recent burials, have played in ongoing claims to land and authority in the area, its main perspective will be on how different, overlapping and intertwined notions of belonging are enabled, constrained, and structured through the materiality of place, thereby emphasising the proximity of discourses and practices of belonging that derives from the shared nature of material landscapes. In this vein, the ruins and graves of past white occupations of and interventions in the landscape co-mingle and co-exist with the resurgent appeals of local clans to ancestral territories on occupied state land and re-settled commercial farms. Its broader theoretical purpose will be to engage with recent debates over materiality and anthropology’s so-called ‘ontological turn’ to make a case for the value of focusing less on ‘radical ontological difference’ and more on material, historical and conceptual proximities.