Mariane C. Ferme is a sociocultural anthropologist whose current research focuses on the political imagination, violence and conflict, and access to justice in West Africa, particularly Sierra Leone.
I received my PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago, after studying Political Science at the University of Milano, Italy, and majoring in anthropology at Wellesley College. My research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the Hellman Family Faculty Fund and France-Berkeley Fund at UC-Berkeley, the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, and the Carter Woodson Institute for African and African-American Studies at the University of Virginia, among others. I have held teaching appointments at the University of Cambridge, the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris, and the Jacques Leclerq Chair at the University of Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium. Visiting honorary appointments have included University College, London, and the International Chair at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium.
My research has long focused on Sierra Leone, and West Africa more generally. It encompasses gendered approaches to everyday practices and materiality in agrarian West African societies, and work on the political imagination in times of violence, particularly in relation to the 1991-2002 civil war in Sierra Leone.
I also have done research on the ways in which international humanitarian legal institutions and jurisprudence shape that status in our collective imaginaries of figures of victimhood, criminality, and witnessing in times of war. The empirical focus of this work has been the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and the developing jurisprudence in that setting about the forced conscription of child soldiers and the crime of “forced marriage.”
My most recent fieldwork in Sierra Leone—carried out in 2015-16, with funding from the National Science Foundation—was an interdisciplinary research project on changing agrarian institutions and access to land in the country. The Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) epidemic in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea has made the contribution of anthropologists crucial to developing socio-culturally sensitive and acceptable strategies for public health interventions, and to understanding pathways of disease transmission. I have written on the ways in which understanding rural mobility, as well as healing and burial practices, in Sierra Leone and the neighboring countries sheds light on the patterns of EVD infection, and can help inform public health interventions to stem the spread of this disease.
Out of War: Violence, Trauma, and the Political Imagination in Sierra Leone. University of California Press. (2018).
"Paramount Chiefs, Land, and Local-National Politics in Sierra Leone," in The Politics of Custom: Chiefship, Capital, and the State in Contemporary Africa, eds. J.L. and J. Comaroff. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 162-182. (2018).
“Consent, Custom and the Law in Debates around Forced Marriage at the Special Court for Sierra Leone,” in Something Old, Something New: Conceptualizing Forced Marriage in Africa, eds. A Bunting, B Lawrance, and R Roberts, Athens: Ohio University Press (2016).
“Social Pathways for Ebola Virus Disease in Rural Sierra Leone, and Some Implications for Containment,” with P Richards, J Amara, E Mokuwa, P Koroma, I Shariff, R Suluku and M Voors, PLoS Neglected Tropical Diseases 9(4) (2015).
“Hospital Diaries: Experiences with Public Health in Sierra Leone,” Fieldsights - Hot Spots, Cultural Anthropology Online, October 07, 2014.
“Writings on the Wall: Chinese Material Traces in an African Landscape,” with C M Schmitz, The Journal of Material Culture 19(4): 375-399 (2014).
"Forests Imaginaries in the Upper Guinea Coast," with P Richards, in Visions from the Forest: The Arts of Liberia and Sierra Leone, eds. JL Grootaers and A Bortolot, Seattle: University of Washington Press, pp. 33-41; 206 (2014).
“Localizing the State," Anthropological Quarterly 86(4): 957-963 (2013).
“Archetypes of Humanitarian Discourse: Child Soldiers, Forced Marriage, and the Framing of Communities in Post-conflict Sierra Leone,” Humanity: An International Journal of Human Rights, Humanitarianism, and Development 4(1): 47-69 (2013).
"Hunter Militias and the International Human Rights Discourse in Sierra Leone and Beyond," with D Hoffman. Africa Today 50(4): 72-95 (2004).
“Deterritorialized Citizenship and the Resonances of the Sierra Leonean State,” in Anthropology in the Margins of the State, eds. V Das and D Poole, Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, pp. 81-115 (2004).
“Flexible Sovereignty? Paramount Chiefs, Deterritorialization and Political Mediations in Sierra Leone,” Cambridge Anthropology 23(2): 21-35 (2003).
"Combattants Irreguliers et Discours International des Droits de l'Homme dans les Guerres Civiles Africaines: Le cas des "chasseurs" Sierra Leonais," with D Hoffman. Politique Africaine 88: 27-48 (2002).
The Underneath of Things: Violence, History and the Everyday in Sierra Leone. Berkeley: University of California Press (2001).
“La Figure du chasseur et les chasseurs-milicens dans le conflit Sierra-Leonais,” Politique Africaine 82: 119-132 (2001).
“Staging Politisi: The Dialogics of Publicity and Secrecy in Sierra Leone,” in Civil Society and the Political Imagination in Africa, eds. J Comaroff and J Comaroff, Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1999).
“The Violence of Numbers: Consensus, Competition, and the Negotiation of Disputes in Sierra Leone,” Cahiers d'Etudes Africaines 150-152, xxxviii-2-4: 555-580 (1998).
"What 'Alhaji Airplane' saw in Mecca, and what happened when he came home: ritual transformation in a Mende community (Sierra Leone)," in Syncretism/Anti-Syncretism: The Politics of Religious Synthesis, eds. C Stewart and R Shaw, London: Routledge, pp. 27-44 (1994).
Out of War draws on Mariane C. Ferme’s three decades of ethnographic engagements to examine the physical and psychological aftereffects of the harms of Sierra Leone's civil war. Ferme analyzes the relationship between violence, trauma, and the political imagination, focusing on “war times”—the different qualities of temporality arising from war. She considers the persistence of precolonial and colonial figures of sovereignty re-elaborated in the context of war, and the circulation of rumors and neologisms that freeze in time collective anxieties linked to particular phases of the conflict (or “chronotopes”). Beyond the expected traumas of war, Ferme explores the breaks in the intergenerational transmission of farming and hunting techniques, and the lethal effects of remembering experienced traumas and forgetting local knowledge. In the context of massive population displacements and humanitarian interventions, this ethnography traces strategies of survival and material dwelling, and the juridical creation of new figures of victimhood, where colonial and postcolonial legacies are reinscribed in neoliberal projects of decentralization and individuation.
In this erudite and gracefully written ethnography, Mariane Ferme explores the links between a violent historical and political legacy, and the production of secrecy in everyday material culture. The focus is on Mende-speaking southeastern Sierra Leone and the surrounding region.