Stereotypes of Past-Slavery and “Stereo-styles” in Post-Slavery: A Multidimensional, Interactionist Perspective on Contemporary Hierarchies

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Abstract: This article proposes a radically interactional approach to how hierarchy is embodied and enacted by different status groups in so-called post-slavery societies in the Sahel. The notion of “fields” is introduced to make analytical room for past-slavery’s interactions with other structural contexts and mechanisms of domination in post-slavery societies. In other words, how do processes such as racialization, decentralization politics, neo-liberal economies, governance of migration, and religious spheres of influence interact with contemporary legacies of, and views on, slavery? I propose to consider how “multiple fields” co-exist and allow one to analytically separate structural inequalities and to uncover how they have root causes linked not only to slavery but also to other hierarchies in contemporary societies. In order to analyze what it means today to categorize or be categorized anachronistically as of freeborn versus slave status, the notion of “stereo-styles” is proposed. Stereo-styles are performances to defend specific modes of social honor. “Stereo-partners” exist in contemporary relations of hierarchical interdependence and allow one to analyze the micro-level embodiment of post-slavery agency, with emphasis on past-slavery continuities. The argument is that by combining these notions (fields and styles), a more balanced approach can be envisaged for where to situate past-slavery in post-slavery West Africa.