Muslim Child Disciples, Global Civil Society, and Children's Rights in Senegal: The Discourses of Strategic Structuralism
- Anthropological Quarterly
- George Washington University Institute for Ethnographic Research
- Volume 77, Number 1, Winter 2004
- pp. 47-86
- Additional Information
This paper examines Muslim child-disciples (talibés) who beg on the streets in urban Senegal. It interprets, from the perspective of Wolof farmers, why parents send their sons to live with marabouts (Muslim sages). It then contrasts Wolof understandings of talibés with the discourses produced by children's rights advocates. It argues that while indigenous rights advocates employ "strategic essentialism" to promote minority groups' claims, advocates of women's and children's rights programs minimize discussion of "culture" and offer, instead, a meta-narrative of large-scale structural forces such as poverty, structural adjustment, and population growth—a discourse termed "strategic structuralism." Politically expedient, such rhetoric nevertheless forces narratives about controversial cultural practices into a generic form that is as reductionist as strategic essentialism.