Unmasking the State Making Guinea Modern
by Mike McGovern
University of Chicago Press, 2012
Cloth: 978-0-226-92509-7 | Paper: 978-0-226-92510-3 | Electronic: 978-0-226-92511-0
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925110.001.0001
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

When the Republic of Guinea gained independence in 1958, one of the first policies of the new state was a village-to-village eradication of masks and other ritual objects it deemed “fetishes.” The Demystification Program, as it was called, was so urgent it even preceded the building of a national road system. In Unmasking the State, Mike McGovern attempts to understand why this program was so important to the emerging state and examines the complex role it had in creating a unified national identity. In doing so, he tells a dramatic story of cat and mouse where minority groups cling desperately to their important— and outlawed—customs.
 
Primarily focused on the communities in the country’s southeastern rainforest region—people known as Forestiers—the Demystification Program operated via a paradox. At the same time it banned rituals from Forestiers’ day-to-day lives, it appropriated them into a state-sponsored program of folklorization. McGovern points to an important purpose for this: by objectifying this polytheistic group’s rituals, the state created a viable counterexample against which the Muslim majority could define proper modernity. Describing the intertwined relationship between national and local identity making, McGovern showcases the coercive power and the unintended consequences involved when states attempt to engineer culture.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Mike McGovern is assistant professor of anthropology at Yale University. He is the author of Making War in Côte d’Ivoire, also published by the University of Chicago Press. 

REVIEWS

Unmasking the State is an engaging and insightful work that constitutes an important contribution to African Studies, political and religious anthropology, and the study of iconoclasm. Mike McGovern artfully weaves an edifying tapestry of the demystification programs launched by Sékou Touré in the 1960s among Loma-speaking people of Guinea, West Africa. This is a well-argued and timely book about an area and a problematic that deserves more attention.” 

— David Berliner, University of Brussels

Unmasking the State is a top-quality work of scholarship. It is clear that Mike McGovern has read widely and deeply in social theory from a variety of schools, in both English and French, yet at no stage does this theoretical material risk overwhelming the rich historical and ethnographic material on this dynamic part of West Africa. The book is well organized and exceptionally well written. It is hard to know how it could be improved.”
— Stephen Ellis, University of Leiden

“It takes a smart and subtle author to put scientific socialism and Pan-Africanism into one postcolony, and that’s just the frame Mike McGovern gives us. Unmasking the State is more than a history from the ground up of Sekou Toure’s bungled modernizing project—it’s a study of state practice, the making of ethnicity, and the active and critical dialogue between the two. Perhaps more important, this is a book about the ways a state becomes a nation.”
— Luise White, University of Florida

“Mike McGovern’s promise to ‘unmask the state’ in this book is both literally to describe Guinea’s new national government’s campaign against secrecy and ‘fetishism’ amongst its rural citizens (1958–1984) and theoretically to reveal the multiple levels and stages at which conviction, persuasion, imposition, and violent expropriation have worked in the creation of the modern state as it now is, with what he sees as a kind of double consciousness, a combination of ethnic and national identity. He combines methods and results from several sites, using close empirical attentiveness and impressive interpretive and expositional skill, to make this important and original contribution to political studies. The book has a great deal to offer to a range of political scholars, from specialists in Guinea to broad comparativists of identity in the twenty-first century.”
— Jane I. Guyer, Johns Hopkins University

TABLE OF CONTENTS

- Mike Mcgovern
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925110.003.0001
[iconoclasm, ethnogenesis, ethnic identity, Republic of Guinea]
This chapter first sets out the book's focus—iconoclasm and ethnogenesis—that is, the attempt to destroy objectionable objects and the coming into being of new ethnic identities in the Republic of Guinea. It then discusses iconoclasm as a cosmopolitan idiom; uncanny iconoclasm; and iconoclasm and ethnogenesis in the context of competing cosmopolitanisms. An overview of the subsequent chapters is also presented. (pages 3 - 26)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Mike Mcgovern
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925110.003.0002
[micropolitics, population movements, ethnic identity, autochthony, political legitimacy, ethnogeneis, Macenta Préfecture, Lofa County]
This chapter examines the ways that ethnogenesis became a process that was intimately linked to other aspects of Guinea's colonial and postcolonial nation building. It analyzes the settlement history of Macenta Préfecture and parts of Lofa County, in the context of previous historical work on migrations and settlement histories of the wider region. It argues that by using the institutions of translatable clan names and power association membership, (proto) Loma and Manya speakers were able to switch ethnic identities, a hypothesis supported by the fact that such dynamics still operate today. It also introduces the principle of autochthony as the ultimate basis of political legitimacy, showing how it was renegotiated through the establishment of fictive kinship relations and rewritten genealogies. (pages 27 - 62)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Mike Mcgovern
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925110.003.0003
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Mike Mcgovern
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925110.003.0004
[Loma, political legitimacy, political hierarchy, sacrifices]
This chapter discusses two institutions that underlie Loma conceptions of socio-political legitimacy: autochthony and the relationship between mother's brothers and sister's sons. It shows that political legitimacy and hierarchy are enacted on a quotidian basis by the performance of sacrifices of one individual or group for another. Such ancestral sacrifice both renew the relations among the living, the ancestors, and the earth and water spirits at the same time as performing the hierarchical relationship between first (or earlier) settlers and their later arriving clients, nephews, and sacrificers. (pages 65 - 84)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Mike Mcgovern
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925110.003.0005
[ethnicized territory, Macenta, Republic of Guinea, Loma agriculture, land tenure, ethnic identity]
This chapter examines the notion of ethnicized territory in the Macenta area of Guinea. It begins with an outline of Loma agriculture and land tenure norms. It then focuses on the material and political contexts of new forms that were imposed upon them. It describes two transformative moments in the history of Loma land tenure: the establishment of colonial canton chieftaincies and their renegotiation in the late 1910s and early 1920s; and the changes in land tenure laws introduced by the socialist government after independence in 1959. The unintended consequences of these transformations were central to hardening Loma and Manya identities in the area, and laid the foundation for the political economic divisions that fed into the development of Loma speakers' resentments and growing sense of unified ethnic identity. (pages 85 - 110)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Mike Mcgovern
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925110.003.0006
[Loma speakers, Manya speakers, Mande socities, ethnogenesis, religious identity, ethnicity, religion, Republic of Guinea]
This chapter examines the ways in which Loma speakers and Manya speakers talk—or do not talk—about their histories and cultures. It begins by discussing some of the sociocultural differences between Northern and Southwestern Mande societies that have nothing to do with religion. It then addresses the question of ethnogenesis, looking at some differences in practice and discourse among Manya speakers. It introduces the topic of religious identity and sketches its connection to the politics and history of ethnicity in the Macenta region as well as the wider forest region. Sketching some of the history of Islamic-political movements in the region sets the stage for understanding how religion interacted in a synergistic way with both ethnic and national identities in twentieth-century Guinea. (pages 111 - 140)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Mike Mcgovern
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925110.003.0007
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Mike Mcgovern
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925110.003.0008
[Demystification Program, Marcel Mauss, persons, objects, Forestier modernists]
This chapter attempts to identify the structural and intellectual underpinnings of the Demystification Program. It begins by considering Marcel Mauss' essay, “A Category of the Human Mind: The Notion of Person, the Notion of Self” (1985), in which Mauss sketches a history of the person. It considers the relations between persons and objects and the ways they have been considered politically problematic in a variety of historical settings, often leading to iconoclastic attempts to purge these offending elements. It explores the crucial role played in Demystification by Forestier modernists—the teachers, administrative cadres, and self-consciously modernist youth from the forest region who aided in attempts to eradicate what they considered nefarious and backward practices in their own towns and villages. (pages 147 - 166)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Mike Mcgovern
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925110.003.0009
[Demystification Program, Parti Démocratique de Guinée, Republic of Guinea, Loma youth, Forestier intellectuals, marriage laws]
This chapter shows how Sékou Touré's Parti Démocratique de Guinée worked in conjunction with women and youths, sometimes in explicit partnerships (e.g., Forestier youth participation in Demystification) and sometimes indirectly (e.g., by choosing not to ban the women's initiations). To the extent that Demystification was successful, it could only have been so because the state, pursuing its program of modernization, found allies, and worked synergistically with Loma youth and Forestier intellectuals. The chapter begins with an overview of Demystification. It then considers those factors in Loma society that shaped the way that the policy progressed on the ground. It also compares the state's alliances with youth to its alliances with women by exploring some of the changes made in marriage laws and comparing them to Demystification. (pages 167 - 194)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Mike Mcgovern
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925110.003.0010
[discretion, politics, aesthetics, Forestiers, socialist culture, Guinean revolution]
This chapter discusses the politics and aesthetics of discretion; the ways that formerly discreet practices and rituals from the Forestier sacred forest became integral parts of the socialist culture industry, and the consternation this caused many Forestiers; the ambiguous position this placed many Forestier intellectuals in, trapped as they were between two seemingly incommensurable cosmological and political systems; and the different ways that socialistera elites found to thrive and survive during the dangerous and unpredictable times of the Guinean revolution. (pages 195 - 226)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Mike Mcgovern
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226925110.003.0011
[ethnic solidarity, national identity, Republic of Guinea, Loma people, Liberian war]
This chapter focuses on the emergence of new forms of ethnic solidarity, national identity, and the ways these could be experienced sometimes as contradictory and sometimes as complementary. Starting from DuBois' concept of double consciousness, it returns to the mutual constitution of the Loma “people” and the Guinean state, and Loma speakers as both members of a newly hardened ethnic group and as citizens of a proudly independent nation. Loma speakers understood themselves as the “others' others,” a group whose objectification as primitive was a necessary foil to creating modern Guinean national identity, even while that nation was itself considered “second class” by many non-Africans. They are thus extremely well placed to critique the symbolic as well as the physical violence involved in making modern Guineans, at the same time that they derive considerable pride from their Guinean identity. The chapter shows how finely drawn this double-sided experience became under the circumstances of the Liberian war. Looking at Guinea's success in navigating the civil wars of the 1990s without getting drawn in, it suggests that the productive tension between national and ethnolinguistic identity was one of the factors that helped Guinea to avoid civil war. (pages 227 - 236)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online