Accepted paper:

Ici on fait semblance: on routinizing the 'normal state of exception' in Goma, DR Congo


Silke Oldenburg (University of Basel)

Paper short abstract:

This paper reflects on the use of language and humor as means of routinizing the 'normal state of exception' in Goma, Eastern Congo. By tracing different modes of 'faire semblant' (to pretend), I demonstrate how war and armed conflict are getting integrated into everyday life.

Paper long abstract:

Ici on fait semblant - On routinizing the 'normal state of exception' in Goma, DR Congo Goma is a context where critical events have turned into 'critical continuities' (Vigh), where crises and ordinary life seem to be interchangeable. This is the background for young people's comments who often state that they either don't know "real peace" or that the situation is "just normal". Drawing on empirical data from 14 months of ethnographical research with youth in Goma, I will sketch different spheres of intimacy in a "normal state of exception" as I frame the situation in Eastern Congo. By juxtaposing the everyday and the extraordinary, the subjective level and the social condition I bring elements together which are often kept apart. In my presentation I want to focus on an important form of taming 'crisis' and maintaining an illusion of normalcy - the ability to pretend, to ignore and to feign which are articulated in the vernacular of faire semblant. These are practices of routinization that help to integrate 'crisis' into the doxic experience by means of a reflexive use of language: Downplaying, euphemizing and pretending to live like in a movie allude to a repertoire of verbal skills that establishes and maintains intimacy without resulting in rupture but which might be read as a way to get a grip on continuity.

panel P052
On the margins of history: keeping a step aside of crisis