Working Paper 212

Creating Self and Other: Discourses of inclusion and exclusion on Mayotte

Iain Walker

Department ‘Anthropology of Economic Experimentation’

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 212

This text analyses the different expressions of identity, the practices of identification, and the conflicts that emerge from this among the people of Mayotte, one of the four islands of the Comoro archipelago. Formerly a French colony, in 1975 Mayotte opted to remain a part of France while the remaining three islands became an independent state. Mayotte is beset by a number of ills: overpopulation, poverty, and underfunded health, education, and social services. Blame is laid at the feet of the significant population of irregular migrants from the neighbouring islands who are attracted by wages, and social services that are better than in the Union of Comoros (albeit still low and underfunded). Underlying these economic problems, however, is a fundamental question of identity, as the Maorais, the people of Mayotte, attempt to define themselves politically (and often by implication socially) as French rather than Comorian, part of an ongoing process of rejection of any possibility of political and economic domination by the other islands of the group. These different expressions of identity give rise to conflicts that are vented in regular episodes of anti-immigrant violence and a pervasive discourse of Maorais difference. However, in other contexts Maorais may claim to be Comorian rather than, or in addition to, French, and the inconsistencies in claims to and practices of identity are a regular feature of island life. Drawing on the concept of the persona, Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory, and the associated concept of capital, this paper argues that the Maorais perform different identities in different fields, a strategy that allows them to mitigate, if not avoid entirely, the conflicts that arise in attempting to be at once French and Comorian.

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