The bonding power of the emotional work of non-ritual in South Africa
Jone Salomonsen (University of Oslo)
Paper short abstract:
The risk of Aids in South African townships stimulates a positive desire for change, which can be observed in new empowerment practices categorized as non-ritual, as “social functions”. This paper analyses the bonding power of the emotions generated and worked with in HIV positive women’s ritualized reform practices as both re-moralizing and as gateways to the new.
Paper long abstract:
In townships in KwaZulu NAtal, social life is framed by the risk of Aids. Although fear of virus and stigma constraint the body and agency, the situation also stimulates a desire for change and welcomes nascent empowering practices. One such cluster of practices is the HIV University model for positive women. It sits at the interface of Indigenous, Christian and more recently imported radical egalitarian practices and aims at protection and re-moralizing through empowerment of individuals and relationships. Basic tools are bonding and self-formation through singing, witnessing, peer-education, self-organization and consensus decision making. Yet, in accordance with colonial English parlance the celebratory aspects of this work, its framing and graduation, is not labeled "ritual" but "function". The categories of ritual and ceremony strictly belong to church and liturgy. Bringing home the dead, burial feasts and unveiling of tombstones are major vernacular functions, and often led by women, yet not termed ritual because they are reminiscent of "the pagan indigenous". This denial of the category of ritual to women may be read as sign of asymmetrical power relations that may be adjusted by its retrieval. It may also be explored at face value: a virtual "third" zone open to play, invention, agency, and a remaking of the world and of relations. In this paper I will explore how "the functions" of HIVU evoke feelings of conviviality and solidarity that may be regenerative of culture by way of forging new emotional gestures of trust and bonding (Grimes 1982; Warner 1997; Kapferer 2006).