The Anti-Help

Accusations, Mutual Help and the Containment of Ugly Feelings in the Gusii Highlands, Kenya

in The Cambridge Journal of Anthropology
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  • 1 London School of Economics and Political Science
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Abstract

Africanist scholarship and anthropological literature on envy offer a jaundiced take on the ugly feelings that can arise in the wake of increasing scarcity and inequality. Proposing an inductive approach that attends to the performativity of words and feelings, this article explores how a Gusii ideal of containing the expression and escalation of ugly feelings influences collective mutual help arrangements. It elaborates on local concerns with the ‘anti-help’, or the confrontational side of help where ugly feelings can be voiced, named, elicited or concealed. In doing so, the article tracks how containing the anti-help structures the relationship between language and emotion, while also acting upon inner experience and affording a political order where a variety of ugly feelings runs the risk of being reduced to envy.

Contributor Notes

Teodor Zidaru-Bărbulescu is a Ph.D. candidate at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Based on twenty-four months of fieldwork in rural southwestern Kenya, his dissertation revisits the intersection between capitalism and Christianity by tending to the relationship between trust and faith. It does so with a view to contribute to literature on microfinance, mutual help and relations of dependence, as well as the currently growing interest in trust as an object of anthropological analysis.

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