Re-Thinking the Family Structure in Namibia? Ethnography with the Urban Youth of Opuwo, Namibia

Re-Thinking the Family Structure in Namibia? Ethnography with the Urban Youth of Opuwo, Namibia


Location: Basler Afrika Bibliographien, Klosterberg 23, 4001 Basel

Mi, 12.10.2016, 18:15 - 20:00 Uhr

Re-Thinking the Family Structure in Namibia? Ethnography with the Urban Youth of Opuwo, Namibia

Hélène Carmons Vortrag ist Teil des Forschungskolloquiums "Namibian and Southern African Studies".

Hélène Carmon stellt in diesem Vortrag ein Kapitel aus ihrer Dissertation vor, in dem sie den Nutzen von «Stamm» als analytische Kategorie für Ihre anthropologische Forschung in Opuwo grundlegend in Frage stellt. Hélène Carmon ist Doktorandin in Anthropologie an der Université Catholique de Louvain, Belgien.


In this working paper, I will give an insight of my discussion on the obsolescence of the « tribes » of Opuwo. In the chapter of my thesis from which this text comes from, I question the importance of taking into account the «tribe of belonging» (being Himba, Dhemba, Herero…) of the people of Opuwo for the anthropologist working there. Starting from the observation that as an anthropologist working with the urbanized youth of Opuwo I didn’t think it was relevant to discriminate the population according to an identification to a «tribe» (even though the people themselves would, under certain circumstances, reclaim their belonging to a «tribe») I intend to justify this approach by various arguments.

The first argumentation is epistemological: I question the interest of undertaking an ethnographic work – and selecting a population of enquiry – according to a classification that’s given prior to the field such as the belonging to a tribe. In order to do that, I discuss the notions of « ethnie » and « tribu » in the French-speaking anthropological tradition and show, with the literature, the obsolescence of those notions for the contemporary work (except if understood in a very broad way). I then support this etic deconstruction with the revisiting of the history of the so-called “tribes” of Opuwo in order to show their historical onstruction as specific groups.

Secondly, I show how the daily life of Opuwo gives an example of the “cosmopolitan condition” (Agier, 2013) which urges the social sciences researcher to envisage all the people regardless of their belonging to a “tribe”.

The third argumentation is the one that I will develop on the presentation (text is below). I there try to follow the same process of deconstruction of the notions of “tribe” to go deeper in what I observed on the field: the appearance of a new emic classification between the people who are (generally) called “the educated people” and the ones who are “the traditional people”. I then try to see how to understand this new classification and what importance it should have on such an anthropological study.“

Eventually, I come back on the notion of “tribe” to try to understand its importance today among the urbanized “Educated” youth of Opuwo : why it didn’t totally disappear, how and when it is reclaimed, etc.