Displacing Violence: Making Pentecostal Memory in Postwar Sierra Leone: Supplemental Material

This post builds on the research article “Displacing Violence: Making Pentecostal Memory in Postwar Sierra Leone,” which was published in the February 2007 issue of the Society’s peer-reviewed journal, Cultural Anthropology.

Interview with Rosalind Shaw

Elizabeth Lewis: What drew you initially to the topic of youth?

Rosalind Shaw: It arose out of my focus on Pentecostalism. I returned to Freetown in 2001, when Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war seemed to be coming to an end at last. I was interested in how people were rebuilding their lives and relationships after the conflict, and wanted to look at Pentecostal churches as one kind of site for this work of social repair. A friend of mine was a member of the Pentecostal church I call “GP Ministries,” and took me along. I found that young people—especially those displaced by the war—were the most active members. They had forged alternative homes and families through the church. I was especially intrigued by how they used prayer and the idiom of spiritual warfare both to work on painful memories of violence and to remake themselves as moral actors.

Rosalind Shaw, "Healing Exorcism 2." February 2007.

EL: If you were to write this CA article today, what arguments would you continue to make, and what would you change?

RS: I’d keep my core argument about the displacement of memory, my focus on the Underworld as a vehicle for reimagining the war, and certainly Matthew’s play as a vision of moral middle-class adulthood. But I think I’d also explore connections to my earlier work on memories of the slave trade and the colonial era in Sierra Leone, since—as Nicolas Argenti has demonstrated for the Cameroon Grassfields—youth were historically targeted for enslavement and colonial forced labor, and responded to recurring social exclusion through (among other forms) movements and memory practices drawing upon Christianity. I’d also like to examine whether “displaced” Pentecostal memory was reshaped by the direct, “literal” narrative memories sought by Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), since some GP youth were subsequently influenced by the TRC hearings and their testimonial memory practices two years after my initial fieldwork in GP Ministries.

Rosalind Shaw, "GP Ministries' Services." February 2007.

EL: Your article seeks to further "an anthropology of social repair," through its analysis of memory and reconstruction. Since the piece's publication, how has your research on social repair changed and developed?

RS: Over the three years after my GP ministries fieldwork, I carried out research on the reintegration of young ex-combatants by NGOs and local communities, on Sierra Leone’s TRC, and on a national post-TRC reconciliation initiative. My work shifted, then, from a Sierra Leonean church to national and international processes of post-conflict justice and reintegration, while my field locations moved from the capital city to smaller provincial towns and rural communities. But both memory practices and children and youth have remained central. For example, “truth telling,” the practice of publicly narrating remembered events from the violent past, was cast by the TRC and many NGOs as a practice that would help realize a desired order of relations between the state and its citizens, reconstituting the nation and give it a peaceful future. These ideas of “mnemonic citizenship” are inextricably enmeshed with those of children and youth, both because young people are regarded as quintessential victims, and because they are viewed as emblematic of the national future. In all the sites in which I worked, actors employed different technologies of repair based on intersecting (and often contradictory) memory practices and multiple discourses about childhood and youth.

Related Reading

Argenti, Nicolas. The Intestines of the State: Youth, Violence, and Belated Histories in the Cameroon Grassfields. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Cheney, Kristen. Pillars of the Nation: Child Citizens and Ugandan National Development. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.

Cole, Jennifer. Sex and Salvation: Imagining the Future in Madagascar. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Cole, Jennifer, and Deborah Durham, eds. Figuring the Future: Globalization and the Temporalities of Children and Youth. Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press, 2008.

Sommers, Marc. Fear in Bongoland: Burundi Refugees in Urban Tanzania. Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2001.

Rosalind Shaw, "Healing Exorcism 1." February 2007.

Selected Additional Work by Rosalind Shaw

2010. Localizing Transitional Justice: Interventions and Priorities After Mass Violence. Co-edited with Lars Waldorf and Pierre Hazan. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

2009. “The Production of ‘Forgiveness’: God, Justice, and State Failure in Postwar Sierra Leone.” In Justice in the Mirror: Law, Power and the Making of History, eds. Kamari Maxine Clarke and Mark Goodale, 208-226. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press.

2007. “Memory Frictions: Localizing Truth and Reconciliation in Sierra Leone.” International Journal of Transitional Justice 1:183-207.

2002. Memories of the Slave Trade: Ritual and the Historical Imagination in Sierra Leone. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.