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Negotiating Tradition in Practice: mud masons and meaning-making in contemporary Djenne

Marchand, Trevor H.J. (2011) 'Negotiating Tradition in Practice: mud masons and meaning-making in contemporary Djenne.' In: Teutonico, Jeanne Marie, (ed.), Terra 2008 Proceedings. Los Angeles: The Getty Conservation Institute and Trust Publications.

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Abstract

Based on recent and extensive fieldwork with masons in Djenné, this chapter explores the fundamental yet fragile relation between local knowledge and vernacular mud architecture. Through long apprenticeship, masons have historically acquired technical proficiency, social skills and a cache of trade secrets. Mastery of these various forms of knowledge has enabled masons to competently negotiate the boundaries of ‘tradition’, and to produce a meaningful living environment. Djenné’s masons have dynamically responded to the changing needs, aspirations and lifestyle choices of its inhabitants, while producing buildings rooted in dialogue with history and place. For more than three decades, a combination of drought, emigration and unstable economy have menaced the existence of Djenné’s mud architecture. More recently, a dam project constructed upstream threatens local livelihoods and the annual supply of alluvial silts from which bricks and plasters are made. Since the start of the new century, modern telecommunications have ‘plugged’ Djenné into a global economy of things and ideas. A rapid influx of new consumer goods, building materials and technologies is making the masons’ negotiation of ‘tradition’ increasingly tenuous. Finally, a growing pervasiveness of classroom-style education poses a threat to trade apprenticeships and thus to the reproduction of masons as a corporate community of trained craftsmen.

Item Type: Book Chapters
Keywords: Mali, masonry, architecture, apprenticeship, conservation
SOAS Departments & Centres: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Department of Anthropology and Sociology
Depositing User: Trevor Marchand
Date Deposited: 09 Jun 2008 10:47
URI: http://eprints.soas.ac.uk/id/eprint/4951

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