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Patrimony and Identity in West Africa

For some times, the concept of patrimony, interpreted in a variety of subfields within the Social Sciences and the Humanities, has occupied a significant place in research programs on Africa. The making of patrimonies and the way they interact with the present – the process of patrimonialisation – studied in a time-sensitive perspective, may provide alternative understanding of contemporary Africa.

Studies on Africa have focused on violence, armed conflicts, rebellions, religious and ethnic extremisms, corruption etc. Such analyses have not taken into consideration the complex and multidimensional nature of such events. From the local to transnational spaces including the physical ,inner and mental territories, processes of patrimonialisation, on the other hand, are windows in the making of a collective memory, imaginary, identities, and trajectories of nation- building. Several ‘case studies’ abound that call for deeper analysis.
This project intends to promote a collective, international effort to explore some of the many processes of patrimonialisation that occur in West Africa, with Nigeria as a center- point of the investigation. The programme aims at studying processes of patrimonialisation that would provide alternative understandings of the way national, sub-national and transnational identities are being built in contemporary Nigeria and West Africa.

Axes structuring this programme

1. Processes of patrimonialisation in Africa: review of achievements and theoretical implications for the study of contemporary Africa

This axis aims at reviewing current trends in research on processes of patrimonialisation in Africa. Scholars will explore the concept of patrimony from global and comparative perspectives. They will look at theoretical implications of the study of patrimonies and processes of patrimonialisation in the understanding of contemporary Africa. They will identify and explore an array of specific processes of patrimonialisation of particular interest to understand contemporary Nigerian society.

2. Contested patrimonies and memories: History, Culture and Politics in post-colonial West Africa

Processes of Patrimonialisation are anchored in history but deeply informed by present experiences. In fact, patrimonies are defined in such ways as to serve the interest of those who lay claims to them. As such, various stakeholders with conflicting interests struggle over the meaning of the same categories of patrimony. Such is the case with the question of repatriation of artifacts looted in the capital of coastal African States by European colonial expeditionary forces in the last decade of the 19th century and kept today in various Western public and private collections. Scholars are invited to revisit, in a comparative way, the historical trajectories of these collections, their shifting meanings, and interpretations and to question the legal and political context of these contestations. Researchers are also encouraged to document other instances of contested patrimonies such as festivals, masquerades, social practices, artworks, trade guilds, sacred spaces or objects, traditions, archaeological sites, and to look at the role of museums and cultural authorities resolving or reinforcing contestations, etc.

3. Environment as patrimony: from local practice to global concern

The patrimonialisation of the tropical environment has been the subject of several recent studies looking mainly at francophone Africa, but little has been written about similar processes in Nigeria. In a country characterized by its dense, largely built up urban environment consisting of colossal infrastructural and developmental projects, can the natural environment still be considered a form of patrimony by government and communities? How do local practices of management of the environment cooperate with or struggle against governmental and international ‘conservational’ policies in an era of concern regarding global warming or threatened biodiversity? Has natural patrimony been sacrificed in the name of industrial development? Has environmental thematic entered the field of Nigerian politics? Scholars are also invited to produce original papers looking at the issues of oil spillage and mismanagement of natural patrimony, conservation of sacred natural spaces and spiritual evolution in the perception of the natural environment related to the spread of Islam and Christianity, tourism policies, change and continuities in the management of national parks and reserves from the colonial period, etc.

4. Patrimony and Identity in Nigeria

As we enter in the second decade of the twenty-first century, more than fifty years after the independence of Nigeria, are there forms of patrimony that emerged as crucial parts of the Nigerian identity? Here, we invite scholars to reflect on patrimonialisation as a tool to create national identities in a postcolonial context. For instance, we would welcome essays dealing with the evolution and spread of foodways and cuisines in the sub-region, in a historical perspective, and their role in forging or contesting national identities. Recent studies suggest that patrimonies can be thought of as by-products of consumption. Indeed, luxury or culturally valued items can become part of national patrimony and identity-building processes. We welcome scholarly, interdisciplinary reflections on the emergence of categories of material culture, brands, local or imported items that have become deeply intertwined with the Nigerian identity. Scholars are also invited to reflect on the video and the music industries as patrimony and their role in creating popular cultures and youth sub-cultures, propagating and exporting values and imaginaries that have contributed to the making of the modern Nigerian person. Other relevant studies on patrimonies and identity in Nigeria will be welcome.

Besides the above questions, we welcome papers on patrimony and policy making, on the question of the patrimonial status of land and its reform, as well as innovative papers on the emergence of new forms of identity-related forms of patrimonies in West Africa and Nigeria in particular.

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University of Ibadan
Ibadan, Oyo State

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