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Negotiating Licence and Limits: Expertise and Innovation in Djenné's Building Trade


During a mason's apprenticeship in Djenné, the young man acquires not only technical skills, but also appropriate social knowledge and a bodily comportment. Together, these inform his professional performance as a craftsman. Recognized masters of the trade creatively innovate in a manner that effectively expands the discursive boundaries of tradition and what is popularly accepted as ‘authentic’ Djenné architecture. Based on ethnographic work amongst Djenné’s masons, this article explores the complex construction of ‘expert status’, and the negotiation of licence and limits for innovation in this internationally renowned and protected historic urban context.

Au cours de sa période d'apprentissage en maçonnerie à Djenné, le jeune acquiert non seulement des compétences techniques, mais également une connaissance sociale appropriée et un comportement corporel. Ces éléments conjugués informent l'exercice de sa profession en tant qu'artisan. Les maîtres reconnus du métier innovent sur le plan créatif d'une manière qui a pour effet d’étendre les frontières discursives de la tradition et de ce qui est populairement accepté comme architecture de Djenné « authentique ». Basé sur des travaux ethnographiques menés auprès de maçons de Djenné, cet article explore la construction complexe du « statut d'expert », ainsi que la négociation de la liberté d'innover et des limites de l'innovation dans ce contexte urbain historique protégé de renommée internationale.

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P. Boyer (1990) Tradition as Truth and Communication: a cognitive description of traditional discourse. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

T. Ingold (2000) The Perception of the Environment: essays on livelihood, dwelling and skill. London: Routledge.

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  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
  • URL: /core/journals/africa
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