Village Matters

March 2009
11 black and white, 7 line illustrations
191 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
African Anthropology
ISBN: 9781847012050
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
James Currey

Village Matters

Knowledge, Politics and Community in Kabylia, Algeria

Judith Scheele

Traces Kabylia's history through French occupation, the Algerian war of independence, and the political turmoil that followed.
Kabylia is a Berber-speaking, densely populated mountainous region east of Algiers, that has played an important part in Algerian pre- and post-independence politics, and continues to be troublesome to central government. But 'Kabylia' is also an ideal, shaped and shared by a variety of intellectual trends both in Algeria and in France.
Kabylia was seen by sociologically minded nineteenth-century French authors as a model of primitive democracy and became central to their debates about good government, the nature of 'race', nationhood, and the social bond. These qualities have by now largely been appropriated by Kabyles themselves, and have become central to Kabyle self-images discussed on numerous websites run by Kabyle emigrants in France as much as by local parties and associations in Kabylia itself.
Central to this image is the Kabyles' attachment to their home villages. But what exactly makes a village a village? And how can this emphasis on communal autonomy be articulated within a modern nation-state? These are the questions this book tries to answer through an in-depth case study of one particular village, analysing the contemporary debates that animate it, and tracing its history through the French conquest and occupation, the Algerian war of independence, and the political turmoil, including the challenge of Islamist politics, that followed independence.
The 'village', as much as Kabylia as a whole, emerges as a place made by its internal contradictions, and that can only be understood with reference to the position it occupies within the various intellectual, political, economic and cultural 'world-systems' of which it is part.

Judith Scheele is a Research Fellow at Magdalen College, Oxford

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Table of Contents

Massinissah's children
The republic of martyrs
Shifting centres
The theft of history
The centres of the world
Speaking in the name of the village


A very fine study [and] a nuanced history and critique of the colonial sources, archival and published, so critical to her principal argument. INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AFRICAN HISTORICAL STUDIES
An utterly compelling political ethnography of Algeria. [...] Village Matters is social anthropology at its very best, successfully deploying ethnographic and archival methodologies to present a complex picture of a local social world, while questioning fundamental assumptions that have for too long hamstrung the discipline into the mere description of the local. Beyond its contribution to the study of Algeria, Scheele provides a compelling model for understanding the politics of community writ large. JOURNAL OF THE ROYAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL INSTITUTE
[An] outstanding ethnography. [...] This compelling ethnography is as critical to understanding modern Algeria as Alistair Horne's historical A Savage War of Peace. CHOICE

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