Carola Lentz invited to the Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin

Anthropologist from Mainz will work on a book project on family history and social change in West Africa during a 2017-18 fellowship

Carola Lentz, Professor in the Department of Anthropology and African Studies at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz since 2002, has been invited as a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Berlin from September 2017 to July 2018. While staying at the Institute, she will direct a focus group on “Family history and social change in West Africa.” In cooperation with two African scholars, Isidore Lobnibe (Western Oregon University) and Stanislas Meda (Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Burkina Faso), she will be working on a scholarly monograph and an audio-visual documentation about the history of one extended family originating in Northern Ghana and Burkina Faso.

The history of the family which the focus group explores is paradigmatic for the multifaceted experiences of social and geographical mobility of many families in West Africa. Studying the trajectory of this extended family from the late nineteenth to the beginnings of the twenty-first century, the group asks how members of the family have mobilised their kin and wider networks to navigate their lives in times of dramatic economic, social, and political transformations. How have the norms and practices of intergenerational solidarity, patterns of inheritance, family decision-making processes, gender roles, marriage strategies, and definitions of the boundaries of the family changed? How have practices of remembering the family history altered, and how have new images of the family, propagated by the Catholic Church, schools, and globally circulating media, shaped family relations and individual aspirations? The family history will open a new window to a better understanding of the larger processes of social change in colonial and post-colonial West Africa. At the same time, it contributes to broader debates on social stratification as well as the complex connections between strategies, experiences and legitimation of social mobility, and the history of multi-generational families.

The focus group members, who are able to build on long-term experience and research in the family under study, combine “internal” and “external” perspectives, and will experiment with new forms of cooperation promoting joint research instead of clear-cut separate researcher/informant roles.