The Hague Colloquium on the Future of Legal Identity

Civil Registration Centre for Development, The Hague and the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research, Johannesburg

Armando Cutolo

Dipartimento di Studi Sociali, Politici e Cognitivi (DISPOC),University of Siena

My interest, as an anthropologist, in registration and legal ID in Cote d’Ivoire has started during my research on the Ivorian nationalism and on the movement of jeunes patriotes. But in fact, I had started taking field-notes on “the social life of ID cards” quite a few years before, since the second halve of the nineties. The research I was carrying at that time focused on kinship, ethnicity and local notions of personhood in the Anno region. Here akan and mande social identities were connected within a common regional political frame that was affected by the “ivoirité” ethno-nationalist ideology - where the mande-dioula Ivorian nationals were implicitly equated with “strangers” coming from northern bordering countries. Travelling in the region I was able (obliged) to spend some time at police checkpoints, witnessing the transactions, the negotiations and the tactics centred around the “cartes d’identité nationales” and the “carte de séjour d’étranger. These ethnographic observations brought me to focus the specific, mobile configurations connecting legal identity, person and personhood within identification practices. After the conflict started, in 2002, I started a research on the jeunes patriotes movement, focusing mainly on “patriotic street parliaments” and their orators, on which I’ve published in the last few years. Nonetheless, the question of identification and (electoral) registration continued to be on the background of my research. I discussed many times about this topic with nationalist youths, heard many oratory performances and witnessed several strategic meetings on the “problem” of “strangers”, “ID Cards” and the “theft” of Ivorian national Identity. In time, having also observed also a peculiar, Ivorian popular autonomous production of “papiers”, I’ve decide to start a research which will be explicitly focused on the social life of Id cards and other documents concerning identity.