'winning at a losing game' Paper at ECAS7, the 7th European Conference on African Studies Basel. 29 June - 1 July 2017.


winning at a losing game: love, friendship and the everyday in Freetown, Sierra Leone


Paper Short Abstract:

Through accompanying members of the ‘Eat as You Can’ social club in Freetown in their day-to-day lives, this paper focuses on love relationships and explores the interconnection between material, cultural and social conditions and daily romantic struggles which often erupt in violence.

Long Abstract

For the ‘EAT as You Can’ (EAUC) social club and their (changing) partners sex, love and friendship take centre stage in their daily routines. They look sometimes with joking, sometimes with sarcastic clarity at the economic and social boundaries of their lives which they feel are not flexible, but rigid and, if not for a miracle, permanent. My interlocutors are not focused on hope, on longing for a different future, but on present reality. As self-ascribed idlers but well-off enough to cover their basic needs, relationships are the focus of their daily routines. I am interested in the ways in which relationships are lived among young people in Freetown in the everyday and explore the interconnection between material, cultural and social conditions and daily romantic struggles which often erupt in violence. EAUC members organize their days around being with their friends, chasing sexual partners, finding love and avoiding being trapped by it. They spend hours daily strategizing how to how to find the balance between the right portion of emotions to enjoy oneself and gain something without rendering oneself vulnerable. Friends are the centre of these negotiations. Underneath and above all these movements are ideals of woman- and manhood. Broken down into different life stages, local conceptions of masculinity and femininity have a huge influence on people’s everyday lives. In this paper, I therefore examine what gendered expectations and ideals are ‘doing’ in young people’s daily lives and in their (romantic) relationships and what happens when they are ‘undone’?


ECAS7, the 7th European Conference on African Studies ECAS 2017 with the theme: Urban Africa - Urban Africans: New encounters of the rural and the urban.

Organised by the Centre for African Studies Basel and the Swiss Society for African Studies on behalf of the Research Network of African Studies Centres in Europe AEGIS.

Expectation: Over 1500 participants presenting 1046 papers in 204 thematic panels and engaging in 10 round table discussions, 18 book launches, 13 film screenings and 13 meetings and 4 keynote lectures.

link to ECAS homepage.

Panel reference: P094. Saturday, July 1, 2017 2:00pm - 5:30pm. Location KH106, Convenors Maike Birzle and Susann Ludwig

Panel Title: Unspectacular Youth - Practicing the everyday in urban/rural Africa

Short Abstract:

The panel highlights everyday practices of youth in Africa. Rather than focusing on exceptional phenomena, which commonly leads to a depiction of youth as heroes or victims, we promote the value of research on routines. This might enable a better understanding of youths’ everyday experiences.

Long Abstract:

The field of youth studies seeks to conceptualize “youth” and describe its practices. To do so, researchers have looked to experiences such as war, revolution, poverty, etc., and the discourse that emerges captures a tension in these spectacular circumstances to cast youth as danger or potential, victims or heroes, stuck or dynamic, excluded or included. The delineation of a distinct agency appropriated by young Africans is an important step towards a comprehensive understanding of the implications of youth. But what if researchers also inquired youths’ everyday practices and experiences of the world? By looking at the unspectacular - that is routines and (possibly) ruptures of the everyday, we hope to get a different and deeper understanding of the experiences. We are interested in motives and ambitions of youth whose life-worlds are not structured by the spectacular phenomena that suspend the predictability of their environment. Therefore, we are further interested in the mutual influence of youths and their social environment, and in the way urban or rural contexts impact their repertoires and ambitions.

Instead of asking what youth is, this panel intends to discuss questions like:

What do young people do?

What constitutes their everyday and how do they experience it?

What motivates their actions?

What are the dynamics of the “unspectacular”?