Personhood, Violence, and the Moral Work of Memory in Contemporary Rwanda

  • Laura Eramian Dalhousie University


Why do Rwandan genocide survivors informally remember not only the kin they lost in the 1994 genocide, but also losses suffered by friends and acquaintances? Drawing on one year of ethnographic fieldwork in the Rwandan university town of Butare, I argue that survivors are at pains to reconstitute their personhood in the absence of relations, and informal memory practices are a form of moral work by which they struggle to do so. I show that survivors maintain limited exchange relations with the dead by thinking of them regularly in return for protection and guidance, and that they use their knowledge of others’ losses to stake moral claims to still being “of” Butare. I theorise these narratives using anthropological perspectives on the constitution of personhood through memory and social relationships. The moral demands of remembering the dead give rise to complex predicaments with which survivors of violence must contend as they navigate what it means to dwell in a present that is marred by the absence of significant others.

Author Biography

Laura Eramian, Dalhousie University
Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology
Focus: Violence, Justice, and the Work of Memory