Florence Bernault, born in Marseille, France, in 1964. Ph.D. from University of Paris-Diderot. Professor of African History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Fellow (1 September 2013 – 30 June 2014)
STRUGGLES FOR THE SACRED: A HISTORY OF COLONIALISM AND THE OCCULT IN GABON (EQUATORIAL AFRICA)
How can we historicize the emergence of modern witchcraft in Africa ? – and in turn, how does this quest challenge conventional narratives about colonialism?
At NIAS, I plan to complete the manuscript of my book, a study that endeavours to bridge the gap between contemporary witchcraft and the intricate battles that took place in Gabon since the late nineteenth century over the spiritual and the material realm. Although witchcraft and the traffic in body parts constitute one of the most powerful ways of harnessing spiritual agency, political power and affliction in today’s Gabon, few scholars have tried to recover the historical foundations of these ideas. By exploring the ways in which the Gabonese and the French composed and imagined physical animacy, spiritual agency and public authority, I revisit colonialism along two major avenues. I analyse it as a circulation of anxieties about personal and social survival, and on the other hand, as a series of transactions in ideas, objects and values. In doing so, I engage African and colonial history with biopolitics, the history of value, and thing theory.
1) Carnal technologies, transactional value, and the double life of the body in Gabon. Critical African Studies [forthcoming]
2) Ruptures postcoloniales. Les nouveaux visages de la société française. Paris, La Découverte, 2010. Co-editor.
3) A History of Prison and Confinement in Africa, Portsmouth, NJ., Heinemann, 2003. Editor