Accepted paper:

Getting away from being "local": how Pentecostal young women experience place and imagine futures in a Nigerian city


Juliet Gilbert (University of Birmingham)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines how Pentecostal young women imagine and prepare for their futures in a Nigerian city. The urban/village landscape shows spirituality calibrated with perceptions of ‘modernity’ and possibilities. Preparing for marriage, urban individualism conflicts with community obligations.

Paper long abstract:

In Calabar, southeastern Nigeria, young women do not want to be identified as being "local", a derogatory term connoting 'the village' and limited possibilities. This paper examines how young women experience, and in turn make, the 'modern' metropolis where their God-given futures are imagined and (potentially) realised. Rhetoric and practice of the burgeoning Pentecostal movement in the city intersects with a sense of place encouraging a very specific sense of identity, the formation of new subjectivities, and an attitude of "With God, all things are possible." Ethnographic examples illustrate how place is not just (spiritually) spatial but also temporal. In the context of Nigeria's growing economic, political, spiritual insecurity - the harked 'end times' by Pentecostals - African urban life poses many challenges, yet presents much unlocked potential. Where Pentecostalism not only denotes 'modernity' but encourages high hopes and aspirations, the spiritual cartography places Calabar diametrically opposed to 'the village', and identifies different parts of the city as helping or hindering the securing of destinies. This paper contributes to the emerging anthropological literature on African youth in 'waithood' (Honwana) by highlighting how spiritual subjectivities are created as young women navigate Calabar and prepare for their futures. Juxtaposed with Pentecostalism's individualism and personal trajectory for 'modernity' (Marshall), which dovetails with urban anomie (Simone), is the uneasy tension of community and family obligations. The need to marry ends young women's 'waithood' and ultimately, through traditional marriage rites, ties them back to 'the village'.

panel P121
Spirit of place