Jennifer Lorin

Short presentation

Post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology. Specialized in political anthropology, especially kingship in West Africa

Keywords

  • african politics
  • anthropology of religion
  • benin
  • ethnography
  • nigeria
  • power

Biography

I am a post-doctoral researcher at the Department of Cultural Anthropology and Ethnology.

Previously, I was a lecturer at the University of Paris-Est Créteil for two years (2021-2023), during which time I defended my PhD at the University of Paris Cité.

This doctoral research involved a study of some forty kings, both men and women, in southern Benin. This work led me to rethink the classical subject of sacred kingship in contemporary terms and to propose a political anthropology of kingship. Using contemporary cases as a starting point, I set up a multi-site survey to study the construction of becoming king. The dissertation received the thesis prize of Quai Branly Museum.

During these doctoral years (2014-2021), I was also involved in two collective research projects, in France (Paris Funeral Services Foundation Fund) and between France and Argentina (IDEX 'project of excellence' fund). Both dealt with the question of the body, whether living or dead, and led to the publication of a research report (2020) and a collective work (2022). In parallel, I have also taken part in the organisation of scientific meetings, such as the Conference for Young Researchers in African Studies at the University of Aix-Marseille (2018), as well as creating and organising, with colleagues, the seminar for young researchers at the Cultural Anthropology Centre in my university (2018-2020) and the seminar of the Société des Africanistes (2021-2024).

Presently, with funding from the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs in France and the CNRS's Middle East and Muslim Worlds Scientific Interest Group, I am embarking on a new research project in Nigeria.

This new research will be conducted in parallel with the revision of my thesis for publication in French and English. By developing the comparative analysis undertaken in my thesis on the political techniques of kings in Benin, I am also examining the influence of religion on the authority of kings in Nigeria.

Research

I am an anthropologist working on kingships in southern Benin and Nigeria.

My doctoral thesis focuses on kings and royal power in contemporary southern Benin. Based on a total twenty-month fieldwork conducted in the south of the country, this ethnography examines the logic of power and authority in the light of recent transformations of the royal institution. If the presence of royal kingdoms in these territories is attested since at least the 13th century, the double movement of democratization and decentralization, which has occurred over the last thirty years, has in fact opened the way to the multiplication of royal claims – particularly in the south of the country. This phenomenon opens up particularly fertile avenues of analysis for understanding the plural logics of the institutionalization of royal power in West Africa, both in terms of the historical dynamics of the legitimization of the figure and the power of the king in Benin (both before and after colonization), and in terms of their transformations in the context of the “Democratic Renewal”. Taking usurpation – and the strategy of conquering power in general – and its corollary, legitimization, as the common thread, this doctoral thesis invites us to de-particularize the criticism towards contemporary “invented” or “re-invented” kingdoms and to re-inscribe them in their historicity. Usurpation is undoubtedly a central – and historical – way of producing royal power, hence carrying with itself a fragility that is almost consubstantial. This ambiguity is precisely what my thesis draws on and analyses through a cross-study of the careers of some forty kings and women-kings of southern Benin and of the ways in which they exercised their royal duties on a daily basis. Possessing, conquering, maintaining and transmitting power, not only requires quite specific resources but also to conform to multiple constraints, obligations and prohibitions, hence testifying of the uncertainty in which the majority of these men and women of power live.

My post-doctoral research is particularly focuses on the impact of religions on the authority of kings and women-kings. While the vodun religion is one of the supports of the legitimacy of royal power, some kings and women-kings have embraced other religions. Through material culture on the one hand, and religious and/or royal rites and rituals on the other, the aim is to investigate how religion and religious actors count and act in the kings' magisterium. Finally, as in my doctoral research, I aim to understand how power is exercised on a daily basis, and the power relations that underpinned it.

Jennifer Lorin

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