Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

Peter Kneitz

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Peter Kneitz

For more than two decades I have been working on aspects of political culture and dynamics of the island of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. Currently, I try to explain the particularities of the contemporary construction of the Malagasy culture of consensus and of a turn toward the normativity of a peaceful society by looking to the example of a recent major political crisis (2009–2014) and the subsequent follow-up process. Formerly, I have worked on the local practice of solidarity (fihavanana) and the importance of this moral value for conflicts in the Besalampy district. The Sakalava kingdoms in Western Madagascar, their historical dynamics since the sixteenth century, problems of historical reconstructions, identity processes and the distinctiveness of a recent transformation into neo-traditional possession cults are another major interest of my work.

The theoretical research interest generated by this ethnographical work is related to questions such as those of political dynamics in the post-colonial era, in particular on the African continent, to the emergence of kingdoms and their dynamics within European expansion, to the emergence of neo-traditional structures and their position within modern civil society, the conditions of war and peace, and peaceful society in particular, of globalization and modernization. Why, I am presently asking, can one observe a Malagasy turn from war to peace and the emergence of a normativity of a peaceful society within the problematic twentieth century, in the context of colonization and decolonization? And does such an observation not urge one to question the standard argument of a sheer inevitable dynamic toward war and violence, as it seems to emerge from the study of disorder in Africa?

Beyond this, I am curious to know more about the long-term cultural process: What is the engine of the cultural explosion driving us humans forward for the last 10,000 years? In my view, one has to look at the particular processes shaping our personalities, our brains, our emotions and our cognitive capacities, and therefore I am working on the relatedness of socialization, society and culture.

Research interests in key words

Geographical and ethnical: Madagascar, Indian Ocean World, Sakalava, Malagasy society

General: Politics, war and peace, the particularities of peaceful societies, normativity and peacebuilding, the turn from war to peace, neo-tradionel structures in the context of civil society, political dynamics of kingdoms, modernization, globalization, ethno-history and historical reconstruction, cultural change and the dynamics of socialization and transformation of personalities

Current research project: “The dynamics of solidarity on Madagascar”

At present I am investigating the particularities of the Malagasy consensus culture in a three year long research project, with the two first years scheduled for Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. The research is funded through a Marie Skłodowska-Curie global fellowship within the EU research and innovation program (Horizon 2020). The cooperation with Ms Lalao Razafindralambo of the Department of History at the University of Antananarivo is an integral aspect of the project.

The aim of this anthropological research project is to improve understanding of the peace-making processes operating in the ongoing Malagasy political crisis. A dispute in 2009 over the Malagasy presidency, the most powerful political position on the island, marked the beginning of a particularly difficult period. At first tensions were limited to the national political level but the situation rapidly degenerated into a more general social crisis as international support was suspended, the economy crashed and the population of about 22 million had to cope with great insecurity.

In this period of acute risk to social order a number of unusual conflict resolution strategies were adopted independently. Alongside the official, internationally brokered negotiations, there were a number of distinctive, local mechanisms which had a clear, positive impact on the situation. The innovative institutional embodiment of a local concept of solidarity rooted in traditional ancestor worship (fihavanana) and popular justice movements led by charismatic personalities were amongst the most important in paving the way for a new beginning.

The rarity of successful conflict resolution in post-colonial contexts arouses curiosity and demands close evaluation. An attractive scientific challenge is triggered, offering a unique opportunity to devise an ethnography of de-escalation and peace in the post-colonial context which will stand in contrast to the conventional focus on war and disorder. Fieldwork in Antananarivo (the Madagascan capital) and the western Melaky region will provide qualitative evidence for an insightful, historically informed interpretation of these basic observations.

The project will contribute to a better understanding of the recent Malagasy crisis but will also provide an important case study of theoretical and practical relevance to political anthropology and international peace-building initiatives.

This project has received funding from the European Union's Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020 (2014-2020) under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No. 702497 - DySoMa.