In the past decades, empirically grounded works particularly from within French pragmatic sociology, influenced by the sociology of conventions with its attempts to theorise the role of institutions in society, have incepted a pragmatic turn in the social sciences. With this turn, pragmatic sociology reminds us that not only are institutions dependent on agreement and tenacious rule-following of inscribed regulations and norms, but that institutions can only maintain their reliability and legitimacy when they accommodate circumstances, capacities and competences of critiquing or diverging ways of seeing how things are. With this project, I attempt to work towards an anthropology of critique dedicated to critical agencies of people in situations, events and institutions based on conventions.

Whereas critique is often understood as enabling practice and capacity, even to the extent of emancipation, especially when thinking about postcolonial theory and discourse or aspirations and their predicaments brought forth by the era of independence on the African continent, denial is considered a transgression of commonly shared beliefs and humanism. Denial can be captured as a state of silencing, ignoring or refuting critical information, modes of knowing or truths to maintain, support or extend situations, ways of being and modes of existence and convictions of the self in the world that are easier to sustain and comfortably situated in a presence that is worth being defended against multiple critiques or ontologies.

Acts of denial go beyond discussions we are currently engaging, not only in our own discipline of social anthropology, on multiple ontologies, futures, uncertainties and values to name but a few. Regimes of denial also seem to suggest that living with difference and hospitality towards radical otherness, which anthropology has long sustained and is still trying to accommodate, are drastically denunciated.

The conceptual work is partly influenced by my ethnography in legal institutions in Rwanda that live with a certain convention of memory and history infused with political and state narratives about what happened during the 1994 genocide, how cataclysmic events unfolded, what counts has crimes of genocide, who is victim and who is perpetrator. This convention firmly embraces Rwandan society and has led to an insistence on renaming the Rwandan genocide into genocide against the Tutsi. This alteration of genocide comes with discourses, regimes and practices of multiple forms of denial that underlie the ethics and coercions of the post-genocide state. Moreover, these approaches to the past lay the ground for justifications in the political arena and are believed to cater for a legitimate state that excludes attempts towards multi-party dynamics or political ambition and rather resembles precolonial conditions in the region that again coincide with the rhetoric of decolonisation and its adjacent critiques employed by governments in the region.

The inquiry into denial, as I suggest here is not only an exercise to debunk or demystify regimes of denial as they are intricately sustained by a range of practices including scrutiny, suspicion, neglect, justifications or denunciation and may even bear traces of mockery and sarcasm. What is more of interest for an engaged and public anthropology is to inquire into the modes of significations of denial in attempts to legitimize or manifest ways of seeing the world and therefore acts of world making by engaging in deliberate descends into denial. I argue that denial is a mode of relating to the world and bring worth meaning and modes of knowing about it. This also implies tinkering with ordinary senses of justice and fairness, it calls into question our shared humanity and understanding of ethics when persuasiveness, ignorance, conviction trespass epistemological boundaries and allow for normative and institutional conventions of the unspeakable and yet unreasonable otherwise of denial to gain ground.