(UNESCO / Japan Young Researchers' fellowships programme)

From Deconstructivism of the Ego to the Emergence of the Alter Ego. The Social Dynamic of Joking Relationships in Peaceful Conflict Resolution in Africa

Summary of research carried out: 
From Deconstructivism of the Ego to the Emergence of the Alter Ego. The Social Dynamic of Joking Relationships in Peaceful Conflict Resolution in Africa

Many approaches to armed conflict resolution in Africa reach an impasse. Nevertheless, there are anthropological and sociological elements such as “joking relationships”, and a type of rationality that goes with them, which can guide conflict resolution. This research into the dynamics of coexistence looks at joking relationships as a path to social cohesion in conflict resolution in Africa. Above all, it involves issues of the ego in the light of Hobbesian political thought to account for the substance of the African ego, the primordial soul, constituting the idea of the community as the smallest element of traditional African society.

As a result, the concept of a joking relationship is examined through its objectives and challenges that involve actions to prevent conflicts, deterrence and, ultimately, reparation aimed at minimizing the damage so as to restore and consolidate social fluidity. The purpose of our research was to analyse the way in which joking relationships answer questions about the relations between social groups in conflict and the desirability of continuing them, in a world of growing solitude and egoism of all kinds.

This led us to assess the current state of interpersonal and group relations, which are now strongly influenced by western-type lifestyles; this distorts the meaning and effectiveness of anthropological practices and of relationships. Joking relationships bring about conviviality and rapprochement between enemy peoples, who seal their coexistence in agreements on the sanctity of human life. Nonetheless this practice, which is present in West Africa and takes place both within and across national borders, is increasingly ignored in favour of radical egoism that generates crises of all kinds. Although the “conventional” methods used by the international community should not be ignored, they nonetheless have their limitations, mostly in terms of highly specific cultural and traditional issues that interfere with the objectives of restoring social peace. Joking relationships are used in order to control social tensions, when political and official remedies have failed. They acquire genuine meaning in a parallel vision which approaches justice from below, an unorthodox form of justice that makes use of the informal and makes it formal.

Thus, they focus on traditional political and community action which takes its pedigree from the spiritual foundations of traditional communities. This basic spirituality shapes the primordial soul of the community, its fundamental ego, through keeping one’s word, laughing and joking as a way of promoting coexistence. That is why they need to be developed in Africa, a continent which is losing its bearings.


20 March 2012