B.A. Dartmouth College 2003
West Africa, Political Anthropology, Corruption, Exchange Theory
My dissertation research examines the cultural logics and analytical categories according to which Beninese men and women conceptualize government corruption. Corruption is frequently criticized in Beninese newspapers, on television and radio programs, and in daily, informal conversation. But the pervasive public condemnation of corruption coexists with an equally prevalent celebration of mέjomέ, a prestigious social title given to elected public officials who redistribute significant sums of material wealth to Beninese experiencing privation. Does this practice constitute corruption? If so, according to whom and in what contexts? How might differences in gender, ethnic self-identification, or position within networks of loyalty and largesse correlate to differences in opinion? Rather than endeavor to delineate absolute criteria, this project seeks to understand both the nuances of social context that seem to govern accusations of corruption and their attending ambiguities. This research contributes to the scholarly literatures pertaining to clientelism and corruption by situating them in a West African regional frame, one in which patrons and clients, ancestors and other cosmological actors each play a sanctioned part. In doing so, I bring into relief and thereby challenge Western ontological assumptions embedded in these literatures. Beyond Benin, the focus on local understandings of government malfeasance provides a needed corrective to the formulaic and individualized understanding of corruption according to which Western institutions such as the World Bank and the United Nations enact disciplinary regimes on much of the world.
My interests in anthropology and West Africa derive from my academic experience as an undergraduate at Dartmouth College. Rob Welsch first introduced me to anthropology and continues to be both a mentor and friend. With Keith Walker I both learned the French language and discovered the works of Franz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, and Leopold Senghor. At the University of Virginia I work with Ira Bashkow, my committee chair, as well as Adria LaViolette, Fred Damon, and historian Joseph Miller. Sasha Newell is my outside reader.