Undermining the abyssal line? Counterhegemonic civilising acts at workplaces in Maputo.

Lisa Åkesson (University of Gothenburg) 

Boaventura de Sousa Santos describes the division between the Global North and South as “abyssal” and argues that the exclusion of knowledge produced in the Global South contributes to the radical invisibility of the humans on that side of the abyssal line. However, there are instances when people oppose the abyssal line and struggle against its dominance. This ethnographic article explores such cases by focusing on the interplay between Portuguese and Mozambicans at workplaces in Maputo and the transmission of a specific kind of knowledge. We present “counterhegemonic civilising acts”, or instances of everyday practices, when Mozambican workers try to teach what they see as ‘proper’ or ‘moral’ behaviour to Portuguese they meet at workplaces in Maputo. The article brings up three different sets of counterhegemonic civilising acts. The first one concerns language and the use of blasphemies. The second set has to do with social and moral norms and values in relation to sickness and death, and the third concerns civic integration, or the compliance with Mozambican rules and regulations. The everyday character of these acts is important, and we see the delineation of these inconspicuous acts, which seldom are discussed in the decolonial literature, as our contribution to the field of decolonial studies and postabyssal research. The counterhegemonic civilising acts develop organically out of the flow of everyday life, and that is exactly why it is important to pay attention to them. They are not tools for conscious struggle but signs of shifts that in the long run, may support an undermining of the abyssal line.