Anxiety in and about Africa
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Anxiety in and about Africa

Multidisciplinary Perspectives and Approaches

Andrea Mariko Grant, Yolana Pringle, Andrea Mariko Grant, Yolana Pringle

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eBook - ePub

Anxiety in and about Africa

Multidisciplinary Perspectives and Approaches

Andrea Mariko Grant, Yolana Pringle, Andrea Mariko Grant, Yolana Pringle

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Über dieses Buch

How does anxiety impact narratives about African history, culture, and society?

This volume demonstrates the richness of anxiety as an analytical lens within African studies. Contributors call attention to ways of thinking about African spaces—physical, visceral, somatic, and imagined—as well as about time and temporality. Through a multidisciplinary approach, the volume also brings histories of anxiety in colonial settings into conversation with work on the so-called negative emotions in disciplines beyond history. While anxiety has long been acknowledged for its ability to unsettle colonial narratives, to reveal the vulnerability of the colonial enterprise, this volume shows it can equally complicate contemporary narratives, such as those of sustainable development, migration, sexuality, and democracy. These essays therefore highlight the need to take emotions seriously as contemporary realities with particular histories that must be carefully mapped out.

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Anxious Spaces
Outlaws and Anxiety in Southern Africa’s Archaeological Past
WHAT TRACES DO EMOTIONS LEAVE? THIS IS A LOGICAL STARTING point for discussing archaeologies of anxiety and, more broadly, feelings. Archaeologists have long been comfortable talking about stress, tension, and pressure, often in a survivalist, environmental, or evolutionary sense. Especially since the 1980s and 1990s, many archaeologists have shifted their analytical focus from these sorts of models to consider the lives of people in the past as more contingent, creative, and unpredictable. It does not seem like much of a leap, then, to think of the material past as an emotional place. However, archaeologists interested in discerning emotion urge caution for several reasons. Foremost is concern over potentially “[projecting] western, modern emotions into the past.”1 This point is especially salient for many African contexts, where much archaeological work continues to be carried out by European and North American researchers.2
Writing from the perspective of African archaeology but for a global audience, Jeff Fleisher and Neil Norman have offered a number of analytical points of entry for those wishing to embark on an archaeology of worry, anxiety, and fear: emotional communities, spatial contexts of emotions, the sensuousness of the state and its ensuing legitimacy, among others that I return to shortly. These interventions draw on some particularly archaeological formulations of “affect”: the ways in which relations—between humans, animals, things, landscapes—lie “at the heart of how emotions emerge” from the “conjunction of multiple people and things.”3 Put simply, affect allows us to treat anxiety in the past as a material experience. Moreover, we can explore the relations underpinning anxiety as much as the physical appearances and actions that anxiety produces.
In this chapter, I consider some material aspects of anxiety and affect, focusing on anxieties related to illicit behaviors and the people with whom they were associated: thieves, “free-booters,” cattle raiders. Here, anxiety relates to security and uncertainty, and to practices of “making sense” of people’s actions, intents, and identities in order to manage concerns about the future. The material aspects I refer to derive sometimes, but not primarily, from explorations of archaeological sources such as rock art. This is for a host of practical reasons (among them, the archaeological ephemerality of many of the people described here) and because of the relative novelty of this discussion, as anxiety has been minimally explored in southern African history or archaeology. Instead, I draw on archival, historical, ethnological, and newspaper sources, focusing on how illicit figures were stereotyped, mythologized, constructed, and enacted through material culture. Methodologically, this resembles a form of historical ethnography. I submit that it nevertheless remains archaeological in orientation because it retains an emphasis on relationships among people, materials, and time; because its ultimate goal is to recover meaning-making practices that emerged from these relationships; and because it is attuned to where emic perspectives on the past are recoverable from material culture.4 Therefore, I consider cases in which the aesthetics of certain objects and spaces produced intersubjective responses to anxiety in their wider environments. I examine experiences of anxiety from material remains of encounters between people treated as outlaws and those pursuing them, with the understanding that often the former leave different or more partial traces than the latter do. One goal of my approach is to illustrate where we can recover a sense of how objects and people behaved through multiple sources, including archival and artifactual ones.
MAP 1. Southern Africa with places mentioned in the text.
Further, I consider “outlaws” and those involved in cattle raiding as figures produced through anxiety in a particularly social and epistemological sense, rather than simply being defined as people who broke the law.5 The “misapprehensions” in the chapter’s title, then, refer as much to emotions as to the practices used to construe and act on criminality and identity, and the tangible consequences of doing so.
The chapter focuses on two contexts in nineteenth-century southern Africa (map 1), both of which constituted sociopolitically marginal spaces where colonial authority was particularly unstable or uncertain: the Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains and their surrounds (including Natal Colony and the eastern Cape Colony) and the middle Orange River on the Cape’s northern boundary.6 While there are certainly other anxieties and regional variations thereon, as well as other manifestations of these encounters among colonists and Africans across the subcontinent, these two theaters offer especially useful examples of how to think about anxiety in a material way.
Especially in this interdisciplinary volume, I want to drive home the significance of the material world and the challenging intellectual space that it presents. Objects, movements, settlement, and economy all became part of how outlaws were perceived. These perceptions (or, often, misperceptions) in turn produced their own material features such as jails, fences, magistracies, and so on. This array of materials and people did not have infinite creative potential, but rather was constrained by the resources—material, intellectual, perceptual—that people could draw on to conceive of outlaws and manage related anxieties.
Part 1: Anxious Fantasies and Anxious Frontiers
On Affect and Anxiety
In a paper widely seen as a rallying cry for archaeological interest in emotion and affect, Sarah Tarlow challenged archaeologists to reflect on the way we approach “feelings”: are we looking for evidence of emotion as a way of explaining people’s actions in the past (“people built defenses/made funerary offerings/feasted because they were likely afraid/bereaved/celebratory”), or are we interrogating the emotional power of things and people?7 The former is a more literal, cause-and-effect way of “reading” the past; the latter is a material culture studies approach, considering the agency of objects and how people and things shape one another. Tarlow directs attention to thinking about emotions in ways that are not purely or primarily psychological: that is, viewing emotions not as located in the mind but rather in the the wider world.8
That emotions reside in the interactions between people and the material world leads us to consider affect as one such intersection. For Oliver Harris and Tim Flohr Sørensen, affect (they broaden this to the more ambient “affective field”) is a dynamic “network of relations” generated through the actions of human and nonhuman agents.9 With respect to anxiety, the conceit is that objects are part of how anxiety is experienced not simply because they possess some innately anxiety-inducing quality, but because of a constellation of social relationships, memories, imaginations, and sensations coalescing in them—and manifested in the affect of those objects, just as a similar network of associations composes people’s affects.10 Affect, then, describes the expression of this constellation, and thus becomes recoverable archaeologically. Moreover, some archaeologists (including myself) prefer to discuss affect instead of emotion because the former allows us to focus on the subjective ways in which this constellation was observed in the past, whereas speaking of emotion can suggest that we have an “insider” view of past people’s minds.11 This latter is not always the case: examples discussed later in this chapter draw from historical documents and, to a lesser extent, rock art, which represent different sorts of access to different sorts of emic experiences, some of which we can recover only partially.
Fleisher and Norman offer a range of frameworks for archaeologists to discuss anxiety and affect in the past; their volume represents the first attempt at stimulating specific considerations of anxiety in African archaeology. Of interest here is their suggestion to consider the spatial and sensuous contexts in which anxiety may have emerged, especially within expressions of state power.12 Susan Kus’s long-term work on the politics of the late eighteenth- / early nineteenth-century Merina state in Madagascar exemplifies this particularly well: she draws on a broad repertoire of material culture and architectural layouts, in combination with ethnographic understandings of Malagasy cosmology, to trace how specific symbols and patterns became co-opted into a state “religion” that did not simply appropriate or scale up local knowledges but created new material, aesthetic, and emotional realities.13 Within colonial southern Africa, Dutch, British, and Afrikaner governments advanced haltingly across the subcontinent over the course of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; their apparatuses and agents were unevenly distributed and experienced. This was particularly the case around the Maloti-Drakensberg Mountains (where many of the events discussed in this chapter took place), which constituted a political gray area between the Natal and Cape Colonies and the Orange Free State until the creation of Basutoland in 1871 took in much of the western mountains.14 This is not to downplay the power of these various states. Rather, it is to suggest that if we take seriously the proposition that affect is “networked” through people and things, then in a settler colonial situation these networks must be as diverse, unwieldy, and contingent as were the material manifestations of state agency.
Put another way, these networks are particularly anxious. Elsewhere, I have suggested that one archaeological approach to anxiety in a settler colony is to treat it as an epistemic practice, related to the ways in which people managed uncertainty.15 By this, I argue that anxiety “makes sense” of and orders the world, based on often-imperfect information and sensibilities related to past experiences and visions for the future. Affect is part of these sensibilities: the “common sense” perceptions that Ann Laura Stoler has so cogently outlined are largely affective, and therefore material,16 as colonial actors made decisions about how to control and behave toward native bodies based on their observations and the flawed conclusions that they drew from these. We can witness colonized people engaging in similar epistemic practices, but power inhered in the resources available to manage the anxieties stemming from these practices—and thus favored state apparatuses and officials.17
Here, I move to consider the role of affect in processes whereby certain bodies and behaviors were designated as deviant. Particularly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, colonial states became “ethnographic, taxonomic states, where minute distinctions of race and status were elaborately encoded into forms of rule.”18 These ideas about race and status included observations of criminality, rebelliousness, and other forms of noncompliance with the norms and expectations of colonial authority, and these attributions of disorder often (perhaps always) implicated observations about culture: “Objectifications of culture—the most visible end of a more complex process by which culture and biology were conflated and often deployed as a justification of the natives’ civic disability—served to make the ‘other’ body a natural object for racially discriminatory governance.”19 Perceived dispositions (deviance, obedience, fear, sympathy) were manifested in material practices and behaviors which were often misconstrued, and which colonial agents could acknowledge and act against.20
Bandits, Outlaws, and Raiders in Historic...


  1. Cover
  2. Series Page
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright
  5. Contents
  6. Acknowledgments
  7. Introduction: States of Anxiety in Africa: Perspectives, Approaches, and Potential
  8. Part I: Anxious Spaces
  9. Part Ii: Unsettling Narratives
  10. Part III: Alternative Temporalities
  11. Contributors
  12. Index
Zitierstile für Anxiety in and about Africa

APA 6 Citation

[author missing]. (2020). Anxiety in and about Africa (1st ed.). Ohio University Press. Retrieved from (Original work published 2020)

Chicago Citation

[author missing]. (2020) 2020. Anxiety in and about Africa. 1st ed. Ohio University Press.

Harvard Citation

[author missing] (2020) Anxiety in and about Africa. 1st edn. Ohio University Press. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).

MLA 7 Citation

[author missing]. Anxiety in and about Africa. 1st ed. Ohio University Press, 2020. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.