Knowing ethnicity: classification, pluralism and politics in Kenya

December 6, 2023 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm Europe/Rome Timezone
Sala Triaria, Villa Schifanoia
Alessabdra Caldini
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In considering how best to manage diversity in democratic societies, a core and ever-contested question is whether and how identity classifications should be used. In this seminar, I bring to these debates research from a book-length project on the use of bureaucratic, legal and symbolic ethnic classifications in Kenya.

This project analyses the forms of ethnic knowledge produced by the colonial and postcolonial Kenyan states: boundaries, censuses, citizenship registration and legal categories. The analysis results in two core arguments: first, that ethnic pluralism is possible, and classifications can serve that project, and; second, that ethnic knowledge in Kenya is characterised by cultivated vagueness, which is a core part of what makes it capable of contributing to pluralism, and not only competition, division and conflict.

Among other contributions, this work demonstrates how a link between ethnicity and citizenship – symbolically and bureaucratically, if not legally – can facilitate inclusion for stateless and other marginalised groups.