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The cultural transmission of social essentialism: a view from Madagascar

Denis Regnier,

Université libre de Bruxelles

In previous work I have shown that, among the southern Betsileo of Madagascar, commoner descendants essentialize slave descendants as ‘unclean people’ who will never get rid of their uncleanliness. The process of essentialization, I further argued, most probably started in the aftermath of the colonial abolition of slavery in 1896. In this paper my goal is to build upon this argument in order to contribute to a current debate over the cultural transmission of social essentialism. I will show how a number of specific cultural practices – including linguistic practices such as the use of generics and deictics – explain the smooth and efficient transmission of social essentialism from southern Betsileo adults to children.