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Title: Crafted 'children' : an ethnography of making and collecting dolls in Southwest Angola
Author: Ponte, Maria Ines
ISNI:       0000 0004 5360 8730
Awarding Body: University of Manchester
Current Institution: University of Manchester
Date of Award: 2015
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Grounded in multi-sited fieldwork within an agro-pastoralist highland village in Southwest Angola and in ethnology museums in Europe, Angola and Namibia, my research interweaves an ethnographic and a historical approach to better understand the meanings and social relationships generated by what I call “elusive dolls”: dolls that are difficult to find and slippery when encountered. The study explores postcolonial significances of African dolls, made by agro-pastoralist people, which have been sparsely collected for display in museums since colonial times. Using multiple field methods such as participant observation, archival research, photo-elicitation, and filmmaking, I trace the social relationships involved in the making of dolls in Southwest Angola and in the housing of the same kind of dolls in ethnology museums, paying particular attention to the material and social networks established around the practices of making and collecting them. Following the logic of local languages (olunyaneka, oshikwanyama), I use the notion of “crafted ‘children’” to define handcrafted dolls made of different materials, and address the meanings these dolls embody for makers, collectors and museum curators. I take a historical perspective to examine the dimensions of storage, research and display and address contrasting curatorial approaches to dolls in museums. While most curators have tended to focus on dolls and their supposed functions, a few have engaged with dolls in relation to other domains of the lifeworlds of rural makers and their skilled practices. Examining the limits of historical ethnographic research about local doll-usage, I build upon these alternative approaches by curators and ethnographically explore the relational dimensions of these dolls in two worlds in which they have material and social lives: Southwest Angola and ethnology museums. Firstly, I examine the regional diversity of these dolls, as crafted “children”, in the rural context through a situated understanding of ethnic and ecological diversity and rural-urban relations. Secondly, I explore the twofold notion of labour – that is, the labour in crafting and the labour in making a living - in the regional domestic economy of agro-pastoralist populations, showing how a resilient rural lifestyle, local and urban resources, seasonal demands, and personal skills linked to age and sociality generate and shape the practices of doll-making. Finally, I examine drawing and photography in published and unpublished material about dolls and show how the visual connects the worlds of curators, field-collectors, makers and ethnographers. A large part of the literature on ethnology museum collections tends to focus on “repatriation”, discussing relations between museums and “source communities”. By contrast, an analytical framework connecting doll-making and collecting, the regional conditions of a crafting practice and its local immersion in rural everyday life, appears only marginally in the literature - this is where my research makes a significant contribution. My thesis contributes to critical museology research, Africanist studies, and visual anthropology and engages with debates on materiality and skill. The film that accompanies the thesis, Making a Living in the Dry Season, is grounded in a long-term stay in a village, and examines the twofold notion of labour mentioned above through the practice of doll-making. I recommend first reading the thesis up until Chapter three, followed by watching the film, and then turning to the remaining chapters.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Materiality ; Making a Living ; Anthropology of skill ; postcolonial ; Angola ; Southwest Angola ; Museum Studies ; Visual Anthropology ; Material Culture ; Africanist Studies ; Crafting ; Agro-pastoralism