Clean people, unclean people: the essentialisation of 'slaves' among the southern Betsileo of Madagascar

Social Anthropology 23 (2):152-168 (2015)
Authors
Denis Regnier
Université de La Polynésie Française
Abstract
In this article I argue that among the southern Betsileo slave descendants are essentialised by free descendants. After explaining how this striking case of psychological essentialism manifests in the local context, I provide experimental evidence for it and discuss the results of three cognitive tasks that I ran in the field. I then suggest that slaves were not essentialised in the pre-colonial era and contend that the essentialist construal only became entrenched in the aftermath of the 1896 abolition of slavery, which paradoxically triggered the historical process of essentialisation.
Keywords Psychological essentialism  Slavery  Madagascar  Anthropology
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