The “political initiative” and the Political Representation of “organic intellectuals” Among a Marginalized Group in Benin

Paper presented at the American Anthropological Association, Washington, panel Translating subalternities today. Critical Perspectives on Gramsci and anthropology,  Sunday, December 7, 2014: 12:15 PM

Riccardo Ciavolella (CNRS/EHESS)

This paper retraces the political initiative of a marginalized community in Northern Benin, fostered by some local leaders claiming for the recognition of rights to politics and to economic resources of their constituencies. Their role is like that of “organic intellectuals”, maintaining the necessity of autonomous emancipation of these groups as a cohesive political subject. To do that, intellectuals – called “Jannguube”, which means both “political representatives” and “literate people” – insist on the idea of a “cultural and moral awakening”. Political representation then passes through the idea of a cultural representation of the subaltern groups, with discourses insisting on identity, cultural specificity and the necessity of re-discovering their own “history” as a tool for affirming their social and political presence. In this perspective, they show an interest in the monographic work of the anthropologist as an instrument for political recognition. In a more theoretical perspective, the paper addresses the issue of the “political initiative” of subaltern groups in the terms of Gramsci, but with an interesting convergence with political theories of anthropologists; and the issue of political representation and the “organic” link between intellectuals and their constituencies.

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