Ethnography of San: minority recognition and voice in Botswana

Type Thesis or Dissertation - Doctor of Philosophy
Title Ethnography of San: minority recognition and voice in Botswana
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2016
Over the last sixty years anthropological interest in San has focused on their status as
hunter-gatherers and, more recently, as an economically and socially marginalised
minority group. In this thesis, I examine the different ways in which this indigenous
minority population in Botswana manage and negotiate their relations with one
another and with the broader society in which they are embedded.
The research comprised eighteen months of fieldwork (April 2010 to
December 2011) in Gaborone city, and a largely Naro-speaking village in Gantsi
District in the west of Botswana. The participants comprised a small but relatively
highly-educated cadre of elite San men who self-presented as advocates for Sanrelated
issues in the wider community but also San men and women in the towns and
villages of the region. Early in the research process I recognised the need to make
sense of the ethnography in terms of a variety of markers. Whilst this included what
San actually said it also encompassed what they did and how they did it: that is their
behaviour, dress and bodily techniques and practices – all of which I describe as voice.
The research intersects with issues of gender, language, culture, class, identity
and self-representation in the daily lives of San. I emphasise the tensions that San face
in their daily struggles for recognition as human beings of equal value in Botswana’s
society. As the public face of this struggle, San advocates were in a difficult and
ambiguous position in relation to the wider San community. As a consequence of this,
I explore egalitarianism as a set of political and social relationships rather than as a
‘sharing practice’.
I identify a number of areas for further research, for example, to work
collaboratively with San to incorporate aspects of what San called ‘personal
empowerment’ and training. I show that the research has wider implications for other
minority groups and indigenous people worldwide who have also been subject to
highly politicised and overly deterministic definitions of their identity. My work
suggests possibilities for working with emerging indigenous ‘elites’, who mediate
most visibly the contours of these categories of identity by purposefully combining,
conflating and straddling these labels.

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