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Phantom trust: faith, language, and inequality in southwest Kenya

Zidaru-Bărbulescu, Teodor (2020) Phantom trust: faith, language, and inequality in southwest Kenya. PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).

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Abstract

In overpopulated Gusiiland, southwest Kenya, cooperative endeavours are proliferating even as people say that trust is nowadays lost or, at best, elusive and on the wane. Like Michel Leiris (1934) who, in his ethnographic journal L’Afrique fantôme, confessed to living in the ghostly absence of what is critically important, a variety of Gusii speakers and audiences approach questions of trust in a ‘phantasmal’ register; for them, trust is a vital concern which is intractably uncertain, illusory, at times imprudent, a product of make-believe, and a possibility that has all but disappeared. Following a century of heightening land scarcity and socioeconomic differentiation, people situate their communities in the end times, when a widespread failure of trusting God and one another has occasioned a descent into envy, greed, mistrust, and other ugly feelings. This thesis contends that these narratives should be understood as world-making acts of speech rather than descriptive claims. Each chapter explores different enactments of such narratives, placing them in historical perspective and tracing who utters them and with what consequences. Building critically on the prevailing anthropological focus on trust as akin to religious faith, which often side-lines the relationship between trust and faith, this thesis foregrounds the interface between relations of trust and local forms of Christianity, in a context where a language of faith permeates a wide variety of social arenas. Overall, Gusii conceptions of mutual trust as a phantasmal site for the revelation of divine grace serve not only the reproduction of social inequalities but also efforts to unsettle and remake established hierarchies. Pushing against approaches that treat scepticism and trust as disjoined experiences, the thesis proposes that approaching trust as a discursive and dialogic phenomenon offers an alternative way to establish the anthropology of trust as a comparative and self-conscious project.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2020 Teodor Zidaru-Bărbulescu
Library of Congress subject classification: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BL Religion
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Scott, Michael W. and James, Deborah and Engelke, Matthew
URI: http://etheses.lse.ac.uk/id/eprint/4115

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