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Mediating Voice: Writing Letters to Address the Public at a Local Radio Station in Mopti, Mali

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Part of the seminar series: Media and Intellectual Productions in Africa's Pasts and Presents

This presentation relies on the analysis of letters sent to a show in a local radio station in Mopti (Mali) called “C’est pas normal” throughout the 2000s. I focus on one of its regular listeners, a young man from a neighboring village, unschooled but literate in Bamanan, who became a prolific writer, sending at some points as many as four letters per weekly show, expressing his opinions on a variety of topics ranging from very local to national concerns.

I study the practice of letter-writing in this peculiar context where the letter is inserted in the oral communication sphere of the radio, exploring the tensions between the conformity to a written genre and the model of public speech. I argue that this twist whereby his voice is mediated by writing, language and technology, allows the writer to navigate between the format of the show that incites to public protest, and the necessity to comply with local social and communicative rules, through an elaborated construction of his letters.

In this talk, I will follow two lines of inquiries. Firstly, I will examine how far his career as a letter-writer led him, a rather marginal community member, to emerge as a public figure, though in a still fragile way. Secondly, I wish to tackle current anthropological debates around the issues of materiality and technology, by exploring how, in this case, writing operates as mediation towards speech, and what this specific context means both in terms of the use of writing and the kind of public expression it makes possible.

Dr Aïssatou Mbodj-Pouye is Research Fellow at the CNRS , affiliated to the Centre d’études des mondes africains (CEMAf). Her main field of investigation is the anthropology of literacy through ethnographic projects in Mali on writing practices in various settings, as well as broader reflections on written culture. Currently she investigates issues of memory, space and materiality in West Africa, and African migration to France.

This talk is part of the Centre of African Studies Lent Seminar Series series.

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