French colonial reading of ethnographic research. The case of the "Desertion" of the Abron King and its aftermath

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Abstract

One of the most consequential events of the Vichy period in French West Africa was the "defection" of the Abron King and a large entourage of court members from Côte-d'lvoire to the British-ruled Gold Coast. This article uses this "affair" as a case study for a broader issue-the relationship between ethnographic research and French colonial policy. According to the testimony of the Governor of Côte-d'lvoire at that time, Hubert Deschamps, he was inspired to offer suggestions as to how to act following the 'defection' after reading an ethnographic study written twenty years earlier. The comparison between his suggestions and the study in question allows us to examine in detail the way ethnography could influence colonial policy. At the same time, the reaction of Governor-General Pierre Boisson to Deschamps' ideas underscores the fact that although such ethnographic studies had a potential influence, especially over Governors who were attracted to this science, they also had their limits when in conflict with political considerations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)337-357
Number of pages21
JournalCahiers d'Etudes Africaines
Volume42
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2002
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Abron
  • African chiefs
  • Colonial policy
  • Customary
  • Côte d'lvoire
  • Ethnography
  • French West Africa
  • Vichy

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