Teeth and Tongue Jammed Together. DPhil Anthropology. Oxford University

“PhD Anthropology, Oxford University: Teeth and tongue jammed together” - violence in relationships and its mediation in Freetown, Sierra Leone.


Based on 13 months of fieldwork in households, communities, police stations, courts and the prison in Freetown, this thesis extends the classic model of gender complementarity by demonstrating how competing gender ideologies of household, community and state impact on partnerships in urban Sierra Leone that are interlaced with friction and violence.

Luisa T. Schneider utilises the metaphor of ‘teeth and tongue’, to show how love and violence can be coconstitutive. Within various relationship forms, violence is perceived as part of a functional partnership, however, carefully differentiated according to a moral economy of relationships. Legitimated or ‘acceptable’ violence is constitutive of affection and love, whereas transgressive or ‘unacceptable’ violence is reported to household, community or the police.

The thesis argues that to households and communities, violence constitutes a relationship between people which must be cooperatively mediated to maintain social bonds. For state institutions, violence is an act executed by individuals. Here, punishment and imprisonment ruptures relationships and dissolves social bonds.

The thesis is set against the post-conflict and post-TRC watershed where laws were passed to rebuild the state, and to prevent rape, teenage pregnancy and domestic violence. It shows that these laws were inspired by human rights and development discourses but led to the criminalising of young people’s sexual behaviour. By raising the age for sexual consent from 14 to 18, boys now receive prison sentences of up to 15 years for sleeping with underage girlfriends.

The thesis explores how rigid laws rub against contingent social categories and how the criminalisation of sexual relationships clashes with normalisations of violence in speech, acts and relationships. It uncovers that these tensions are based upon different ideals of gender relations and gendered perceptions of violence. The thesis thus offers an ethnographic critique of concepts like love and violence that are often used by academics in ways that fail to capture the vernacular resonances and connotations of the terms in West African popular culture and social life. Based on the framework of competing gender ideologies, the thesis fosters new understandings of the anthropology of violence, love and law.

link to the thesis


Luisa T. Schneider completed her DPhil/PhD in Anthropology at the University of Oxford without any corrections in 2018. Her research won the prestigious SAME Prize Competition for academic merit and excellence of prior record of the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography, University of Oxford (2017). In 2018, Schneider received the Royal Anthropological Institute (RAI)/Sutasoma Award for outstanding merit of research about to come to conclusion. In 2016, she received the Aylmer Award of St. Peter’s College, Oxford University for academic achievements.

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