Between Birth and Bones: Not-Knowing in the Madagascar Sand

André-Johnson, Cory-Alice, Anthropology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Mentore, George, Anthropology, University of Virginia

This dissertation puts not-knowing, from the Gasy ‘tsy mahay,’ in conversation with technologies of power and legacies of colonialism founded in knowledge accumulation and production. Based on twenty cumulative months of fieldwork in the Southwest coastal region of Madagascar, this text combines ethnographic fiction and theoretical mosaic as a means of pushing the questions underpinning this research into methodology and representation. Thus, at all levels, I question how knowing has informed anthropology and how not-knowing might lead to anthropological projects that resist and refuse the prioritizing of truth. Not-knowing encompasses a wide range of practices geared towards reducing, restricting, or withholding knowledge from others as well as from oneself. Rather than approaching not-knowing as a lacuna, a deficit, or something to overcome, this dissertation follows the ways the people I worked with in Belo relate to it. In doing so, I build a narrative and theoretical arch rooted in lies, misdirection, ambiguities, and various other forms of avoiding the power of confessional politics.
Theoretically, I draw a line, though not always a straight one, between ethnographic material, bio/necropolitics, debates juxtaposing epistemology and ontology, and the decolonial writings of scholars of color. Reading not-knowing through scholarship on opacity, refusal, and disorientation, I join a chorus of writers and scholars who seek ontological alternatives to biopolitics and necropolitics, to the discounting of particular lives, and to the modes of truth making and knowledge production that sustain these. Ultimately, I do not present not-knowing as a solution to these forms of power and oppression, but turn to ethnographic examples of staying with the tensions presented by a refusal of ordering. Thus, this dissertation stays with the indeterminacy of not-knowing as a means of calling forth what I learned in the field without fixing the people I learned from to and through the lessons.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Madagascar, Vezo, Not-Knowing, Refusal, Opacity
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