The Underneath of Things: Violence, History, and the Everyday in Sierra Leone

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ISBN-13: 978-0520225435
ISBN-10: 0520225430
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"The world is currently quite aware of Sierra Leone and its predicament, and it needs this well-informed and beautifully written account of what makes the country so wonderful despite its woes. Ferme's work is truly transcendent, capturing magnificently well some of the most important aspects of an otherwise 'difficult' ethnographic case. It is a truthful and honest piece of work, based on a deep grasp of the ethnographer's craft." - Paul Richards, author of Fighting for the Rain Forest

From the Inside Flap

"Researched with unusual sensitivity, original in approach, illuminating beyond its immediate geographical and theoretical referents, and written in a style that is both carefully crafted and eminently accessible...this is the work of a remarkably talented observer and scholar."—Jane Guyer, editor of Money Matters: Instability, Values and Social Payments in the Modern History of West African Communities, former president of the African Studies Association

"The world is currently quite aware of Sierra Leone and its predicament, and it needs this well-informed and beautifully written account of what makes the country so wonderful despite its woes. Ferme's work is truly transcendent, capturing magnificently well some of the most important aspects of an otherwise "difficult" ethnographic case. It is a truthful and honest piece of work, based on a deep grasp of the ethnographer's craft. "—Paul Richards, author of Fighting for the Rain Forest: War, Youth and Resources in Sierra Leone

Ferme is a true master in the magic of "things." She gives the study of secrecy new impetus by examining its history, relating that history not only to discourse but also to material conditions. She brilliantly shows how, for Sierra Leone societies, the celebration of ambiguity has been a way to live with permanent danger-from the long history of slavery through the present civil war. —Peter Geschiere, author of The Modernity of Witchcraft, Politics and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa

The Underneath of Things is a model of patience, detailed observation, and elegant writing: a theoretically creative study that is keen to track and to disentangle the webs and flows of everyday life.—Achille Mbembe, author of On the Postcolony
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 300 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (September 3, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520225430
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520225435
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,263,179 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 34 people found the following review helpful By carpetauntie on December 27, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Honestly, I couldn't make heads or tails of this book - and I am an entirely over-educated offspring of academics, a native speaker of English, and a voracious reader. I just didn't understand the words! I purchased this book before moving to Sierra Leone to manage an aid program, hoping to gain insight into the people I would be living and working with. This book, however, was more about anthropological theory than the Mende people; it served to illustrate academic points rather than the cultural world they inhabit. Entire chapters were devoted to such esoterica as the meaning of "twins" and the supreme symbolic significance of placement of hammocks vs. stools within the household. Meanwhile, the prose is peppered with endless usage of such words as "homologous" and "hermeutic" along with liberal sprinklings of Mende words - which are defined the first time they are used, but as there is no glossary to subsequently refer to by the end of the book the reader is lost in linguistic gobbledy-gook.
I am sure that this book has contributed to academic inquiry -- but from my perspective, I have never read an entire book about a people and place and learned so little about them.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M. Blaha on May 25, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
..or involving some "navel-gazing" as one of my professors once put it. Ferme is working within post-structuralist and practice-theory paradigms, which borrow heavily from literary criticism, so you will run into some rather abstract ideas/terms. That's not to say that the book isn't enjoyable--just make sure you have Wikipedia pulled up so that you can quickly review the ideas she is referencing.

Ferme's central argument is that Sierra Leone's violent history of subjugation by the West as well as its more recent civil conflicts have necessitated secrecy and produced a system of social meaning in which objects and practices, which on the surface appear mundane and everyday, are laden with hidden symbolism and meaning (the "underneath" of things).

Ferme's analysis is sensitive and seems to be well-informed but (at times) can tread close to speculation as it is largely based on observational data. Her conclusion really brings the work together, however. Ferme states that Mende cultural logic, which allows for ambiguity, fluidity and mediation, demonstrates the agency and creativity Mende women and man have employed in dealing with the instability and contestation of power associated with Sierra Leone's violent history.

All in all, a great ethnography!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ked E. James on November 8, 2007
Format: Paperback
This is a deeply researched piece on Mende beliefs and customs by a Social Anthropologist. It claims to be on Violence,History, and the Everyday in Sierra Leone. This it does not accomplish. It is rather a study of a certain tribe and limited to a defined geographic location within Sierra Leone.For someone interested in Mende culture it makes good reading,familiarizes one with unusual cultural practices. On the whole it gives you a better understanding of common phehomena which the casual by-stander would count as nought. It however requires concentrated reading, and for those who have travelled in Mendeland much reflection on incidents and practices that were once observed. I recommend this book for any student of African Philosophy, travellers, and also the casual curious types.
Ked E. James, M.D.
Petal, MS.
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