Work, Social Status, and Gender in Post-Slavery Mauritania

Work, Social Status, and Gender in Post-Slavery Mauritania

Katherine Ann Wiley
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 09/10/2018
Format: Hardback 15 b&w illus.
ISBN: 978-0-253-03621-6
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Although slavery was legally abolished in 1981 in Mauritania, its legacy lives on in the political, economic, and social discrimination against ex-slaves and their descendants. Katherine Ann Wiley examines the shifting roles of Muslim Ḥarāṭīn (ex-slaves and their descendants) women, who provide financial support for their families. Wiley uses economic activity as a lens to examine what makes suitable work for women, their trade practices, and how they understand and assert their social positions, social worth, and personal value in their everyday lives. She finds that while genealogy and social hierarchy contributed to status in the past, women today believe that attributes such as wealth, respect, and distance from slavery help to establish social capital. Wiley shows how the legacy of slavery continues to constrain some women even while many of them draw on neoliberal values to connect through kinship, friendship, and professional associations. This powerful ethnography challenges stereotypical views of Muslim women and demonstrates how they work together to navigate social inequality and bring about social change.

Author Bio

Katherine Ann Wiley is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Pacific Lutheran University. Her work has appeared in Africa and Africa Today.


“Katherine Ann Wiley provides a complex account of how slavery practices and post-slavery conventions have been entangled with ambiguous colonial, postcolonial, and neoliberal moments to reframe ethnic and social status.”
 — Hsain Ilahiane, author of The Historical Dictionary of the Berbers

“This book is rich in content, and the lives of those occupying what is often considered as only a political category or a human-rights discourse become very real to the reader. Katherine Ann Wiley uses vignettes and anecdotes extremely effectively and her ‘data’ take on the personae of the real women she lived and worked with.”
 — E. Ann McDougall, editor of Engaging with a Legacy: Nehemia Levtzion (1935-2003)

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Table of Contents


Note on Transliteration and Language

Introduction: I Will Make You My Servant: Social Status, Gender, and Work

1. From Black to Green: Changing Political Economy and Social Status in Kankossa

2. "We Work for Our Lives": Revaluing Femininity and Work in a Post-slavery Market

3. Joking Market Women: Critiquing and Negotiating Gender Roles and Social Hierarchy

4. Women’s Market Strategies: Building Social Networks, Protecting Resources, and Managing Credit

5. Making People Bigger: Wedding Exchange and the Creation of Social Value

6. Embodying and Performing Gender and Social Status through the Malaḥfa (Mauritanian veil)

Conclusion: Social Rank in the Neoliberal Era