'Teeth and tongue jammed together'.domestic violence in Freetown, Sierra Leone.Paper at AAA. Anthropology Matters,Washington. November 29 - December 3 2017


"Teeth and tongue jammed together" - domestic violence in Freetown, Sierra Leone.


Based one on year of ethnographic fieldwork in Freetown, Sierra Leone on relationships and domestic violence, my paper maps the complex interconnection between domestic violence, gendered expectations generated by social, economic, and cultural conditions in a rapidly transforming environment, and the daily lived reality of men and women.

During my interviews, the stories of relationships were diverse and encompassed a wide range of sexual interactions and dynamics. Domestic violence, on the other hand, was a ubiquitous concern, and a central theme that united many of these narratives. Social pressures to perform expected roles of masculinity and femininity, along with the insecurities attendant upon what these ideals mean in a rapidly changing social landscape lie at the heart of forms of violence, and the endurance of those who suffer it.

Domestic violence in Freetown has come to demonstrate the intactness of a relationship and to prevent its dismantling. Violence is executed, endured and even expected as a demonstration of affection.

The structures of punishment and domination are embedded in a specific understanding of woman- and manhood. In this context, violence can be interpreted as a form of communication.

My paper discusses the difficult issue of how domestic violence functions, not as a disruption of the norm, but as the norm within a system of social acceptance through an anthropological lens.


4th International LOVA Conference 2017 "Ethnographies of Gender and Mobility". July 5-7. VU Amsterdam, Netherlands. Anthropology Matters!, the 116th Annual Meeting of the American Anthropological Association. 29 November - 3 December. Marriott, Washington, DC.

Theme: Anthropology Matters!

organised by the American Anthropological Association

link to AAA Homepage.

Session Title: Conflated Harm: Normalizing Domestic Violence, Marginalizing Change Bringers/Providers of Care

Session Abstract

Anthropology, poised to document both the impact of cultures and the meanings that cultures create, has proven itself vital to improved understandings about gender, violence, their impacts and interventions in the everyday. Usually situated within the realm of gender based violence, the discipline has often focused on specific definitions frequently set in static realms across cultural contexts. In this political moment, the global public’s gaze is trained on decidedly charged, mercurial environments. Expanding militarization, political disenfranchisement, far-right political movement resurgence and broad sociocultural displacement holds our attention, drawing scholarship in those directions. Within such volatile environments, domestic violence and cultural context conflate to create additional harm, simultaneously normalizing the violence and marginalizing those who engage interventions–be it as survivors or caregivers. Attention to the ways that these politically charged landscapes shift localized understandings of the nature of domestic violence as well as its potential harms also help us understand the landscape, itself. This panel brings together papers based on ethnographic fieldwork in Sierra Leone, Guatemala, and India as well as among South Asian immigrants to the UK to examine the localized impacts of such harms. Within these cultural contexts, “violence as demonstrated affection” within intimate relationships, interventionists’ management of the logics of “care” with the everyday practice of “critique”, the struggle to build effective feminist advocacy in the shadow of decades long political violence and the impact of state imposed notions of “victimhood” on ethnic and transnational identity post-migration serve as the background to consider how layers of cultural and social harm shape understandings of domestic violence. Together, these papers represent multiple purposes. They offer a broader interrogation of the meaning we, as scholars, invoke in our discussions of domestic violence, question the impact of the cultural contexts on what we consider in that invocation and expand the anthropological work of gender, violence and gender based violence.