The past 15 years have brought an upsurge of “autochthony.” It has become an incendiary political slogan in many parts of the African continent as an unexpected corollary of democratization and the new style of development policies (“by-passing the state” and decentralization). The main agenda of the new autochthony movements is the exclusion of supposed “strangers” and the unmasking of “fake” autochthons, who are often citizens of the same nation-state. However, Africa is no exception in this respect. Intensified processes of globalization worldwide seem to go together with a true “conjuncture of belonging” (T.M. Li 2000) and increasingly violent attempts to exclude “allochthons.” This article compares studies of the upsurge of autochthony in Africa with interpretations of the rallying power of a similar discourse in Western Europe. How can the same discourse appear “natural” in such disparate circumstances? Recent studies highlight the extreme malleability of the apparently self-evident claims of autochthony. These discourses promise the certainty of belonging, but in practice, they raise basic uncertainties because autochthony is subject to constant redefinition against new “others” and at ever-closer range.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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