Africa

Research-Articles

Negotiating Licence and Limits: Expertise and Innovation in Djenné's Building Trade

Trevor H. J. Marchand

Abstract

During a mason's apprenticeship in Djenné, the young man acquires not only technical skills, but also appropriate social knowledge and a bodily comportment. Together, these inform his professional performance as a craftsman. Recognized masters of the trade creatively innovate in a manner that effectively expands the discursive boundaries of tradition and what is popularly accepted as ‘authentic’ Djenné architecture. Based on ethnographic work amongst Djenné’s masons, this article explores the complex construction of ‘expert status’, and the negotiation of licence and limits for innovation in this internationally renowned and protected historic urban context.

Résumé

Au cours de sa période d'apprentissage en maçonnerie à Djenné, le jeune acquiert non seulement des compétences techniques, mais également une connaissance sociale appropriée et un comportement corporel. Ces éléments conjugués informent l'exercice de sa profession en tant qu'artisan. Les maîtres reconnus du métier innovent sur le plan créatif d'une manière qui a pour effet d’étendre les frontières discursives de la tradition et de ce qui est populairement accepté comme architecture de Djenné « authentique ». Basé sur des travaux ethnographiques menés auprès de maçons de Djenné, cet article explore la construction complexe du « statut d'expert », ainsi que la négociation de la liberté d'innover et des limites de l'innovation dans ce contexte urbain historique protégé de renommée internationale.

(Online publication May 19 2011)

Trevor Marchand is an ESRC Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at SOAS, where he teaches the anthropology of architecture. He has conducted fieldwork with masons in Arabia and West Africa, and is currently studying training and practice among English woodworkers. His research focuses on embodied cognition and communication. He is the author of Minaret Building and Apprenticeship in Yemen (Routledge Curzon) and The Masons of Djenné (Indiana University Press), and co-producer of the documentary film Future of Mud.