Publications

Tall tales and borderline cases : Narratives as meaningful contraband

Schomerus, Mareike; Vries, Lotje De

Summary

Smuggling is only possible because goods or people change value as they cross a border. Value, significance or meaning are socially constructed and created through narratives or stories. Thus, smuggling and meaning are inseparably intertwined. This chapter proposes that a crucial perspective for the study of smuggling is to treat narratives as contraband as they, too, change what they are worth by travelling across a border. Using a case study of an international incident – an attack by the South Sudanese vigilante group the Arrow Boys on the town of Obo in the Central African Republic in 2013 – this chapter unpacks how the three characteristics of this border – official demarcation, vast and ambiguous territory, and the single road that connects the two countries – bestow upon stories and explanations of why the attack happened the characteristics of smuggled goods. These stories and explanations are part of the ‘mental landscape’ of border residents. Paying increased attention to the ‘mental landscape’ offers a deeper appreciation of the fact that human sensemaking of everyday life is shaped by narratives, memories, histories and relationships, which in turn influences how humans behave.