Stereotypes of slavery and ‘stereostyles’ in post-slavery: biographies, life stages and the reconfigurations of master-slave relations among Fulbe migrants in Bamako – Lotte Pelckmans

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Lotte Pelckmans, Institute for History, University of Leiden

Migrants often display a vested interest in reproducing moral behaviour and ideologies of their home areas. By reproducing existing hierarchical relations and group identities, they hope to tackle risks of social disconnection and ensuing downward social mobility in new contexts of arrival. This probably explains why among West African migrants in different places, some aspects of hierarchical behaviour that used to characterise past master- slave relations are reproduced. MaliIn the contemporary setting of Bamako, some Fulbe migrants with ascribed slave status are embedded in vertical relations that define their professional biographies, their working modalities and often even their work in itself. Structural historical conditions as well as the contingent turbulences of everyday social interactions situate the possibilities for these migrants to change or sustain such relations. The argument of this presentation is that this requires ‘complementary pairs’: a ‘dual’ agency exerted both by groups with ascribed elite and by groups with ascribed slave status. To underline this duality, I analyse hierarchical interactions through the lens of the ‘style’ concept as developed by Ferguson (1999) and propose the notion of ‘stereostyles’. This notion underlines how hierarchy is embodied and enacted by both elites and slave descendants (stereo), rather than being imposed top-down by the elite only (mono). At the same time this notion allows for addressing the way in which relations of dependence change, evolve and adjust according to periods of life. The biographies of different generations of migrants descending of those who used to be masters versus slaves, explains under which circumstances and relational forms (gender, age, life stage, generation) opportunities to ‘stereostyle’ are taken up. In so doing, this contribution deconstructs linear approaches to emancipation in post-slavery societies and takes relationality as a starting point for changeability of stereotyped relations.

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