Magic Marketing: Performing Grassroots Literacy

Cécile B. Vigouroux

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This article shows how socially stigmatized ways of writing may be commodified by the scribers themselves in order to reap symbolic and/or economic benefits. I illustrate this point by examining African marabouts’ advertisements in France and the way they are read by the French. These cards promote marabouts’ spiritual powers with promises to bring back unfaithful spouses and, among other things, success in business. I argue that what French readers interpret as grassroots literacy should instead be analyzed as astroturf literacy, i.e. literacy that imitates or fakes popular grassroots ways of writing. I submit that display of seemingly poor literacy is an essential part of marabouts’ doing being African: By performing ‘non-standard’ literacy they become ‘authentic’ Africans, and therefore legitimate clairvoyants, according to the set of fantasized sociocultural stereotypes. Yet, by recycling socio-cultural stereotypes, the marabouts participate in the re-production of the social and moral orders that enable the possibilities of French readers’ meaning-making.

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:

Vigouroux, C. Magic Marketing: Performing Grassroots Literacy. Diversities. 2011, vol. 13, no. 2, pp. , UNESCO. ISSN 2079-6595

About the Author:

Cécile B. Vigouroux is an Assistant Professor in the Department of French at Simon Fraser University (British Columbia, Canada). She has published several articles and book chapters on African migrations in Cape Town (South Africa), focusing on identity construction, on space and territoriality, and, more recently, on globalization and migration. In collaboration with Salikoko S. Mufwene, she co-edited a book titled Globalization and Language Vitality: Perspectives from Africa (Continuum Press, 2008). cvigouro(at)

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