Fathers, Sons, and the State: Discipline and Punishment in a Wolof Hinterland

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In the February 2009 issue of Cultural Anthropology, Donna Perry presents three cases of intergenerational conflict in rural Senegal, where elder Wolof household heads have called upon police to discipline junior males who rebelled against their authority. “Fathers, Sons, and the State: Discipline and Punishment in a Wolof Hinterland” raises questions about moral order, the “crisis of masculinity”, and relationships between rural elders and juniors as well as the state. Youthful insubordination in the hinterland is not an extension of Senegal’s urban youth crisis, except indirectly, Perry argues.  The dichotomy often drawn between African youths as modern and menacing and elders as traditional and conservation does not hold in these three cases: “…most juniors in this rural zone remain firmly bonded to their families, exhibiting both economic interdependence and shared morality.” Rather, these “breach cases” as Perry describes them, may illuminate shared norms, local codes of conduct, and struggles over domestic power in the age of neoliberalism.

Drawing on and complicating the “criminalization of the state” literature, Perry shows that farmer-state interaction—specifically where police are called on to discipline rebellious youth—exemplifies a historically-rooted pattern of collaboration where the state continuously reinforces patriarchy. As Perry writes, “I interpret elders’ paranoid performances of discipline and authority as preemptive rather than defensive strategies, staged by men whose control over the means of production is dwindling and who are haunted by the spectre of urban youth run amok.” Using these three cases to highlight the complexity of power relations, the essay adds a spatial geographic analysis to Senegal’s youth crisis, the role of stage agents, and the moral visions at play.

Editorial Footnotes

Cultural Anthropology has published many essays on youth in Africa. See Danny Hoffman’s essay “The City as Barracks: Freetown, Monrovia, and the Organization of Violence in Postcolonial African Cities” (2007), Rosalind Shaw’s “Displacing Violence: Making Pentecostal Memory in Postwar Sierra Leone” (2007), James G. Ferguson’s “Of Mimicry and Membership: Africans and the "New World Society"” (2002), and Brad Weiss’ “Thug Realism: Inhabiting Fantasy in Urban Tanzania” (2002).

Cultural Anthropology has also published a number of essays on neoliberalism and the state. See, for example, Ananthakrishan Aiyer’s essay “The Allure of the Transnational: Notes on Some Aspects of the Political Economy of Water in India” (2007), Benjamin Chesluk’s““Visible Signs of a City Out of Control”: Community Policing in New York City”(2004), Blair Rutherford’s “Desired Publics, Domestic Government, and Entangled Fears: On the Anthropology of Civil Society, Farm Workers, and White Farmers in Zimbawe” (2004), Emanuela Guano’s “Spectacles of Modernity: Transnational Imagination and Local Hegemonies in Neoliberal Buenos Aires” (2002).

About the Author

Donna Perry is an assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Gettysburg College in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. She has conducted extensive fieldwork in Senegal, West Africa among Wolof-speaking farmers. Her work principally concerns globalization, modernity, and social change as experienced and perceived by local peoples. Her current research concerns children's rights amongst the institution of child-disciplies who live with a Muslim sage for many years. A second research project concerns cross-border trade and farmer-state relations especially in terms of smuggling and corruption.

Additional Work By the Author

(2004) "Muslim Child Disciples, Global Civil Society, and Children’s Rights in Senegal: The Discourses of Strategic Structuralism." Anthropological Quarterly 77(1):47–86.

(2005) "Wolof Women, Economic Liberalization, and the Crisis of Masculinity in Rural Senegal." Ethnology 44(3):207–226.

(In Press) "“Strangers and Sons”: Senegalese Time-Share Labour in the Wake of Neoliberalism." Journal of Agrarian Change.

(N.d.) Masculinity and the Morality of State Predation: Smuggler-State Relationsin Rural Senegal. Unpublished MS, Department of Anthropology, Gettysburg College.

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