P169 – “Spatialising” the State in Africa
8 July, 14:00-15:30

Emmenegger Rony / University of Zurich (Department of Geography)
Chinigò Davide / University of Bologna (Department of Political and Social Sciences)


Social, economic and political transformations in Africa are inextricably related to the reconfiguration of the state. Although researchers of the state have tried to understand such relations by looking at how the state is socially embedded, the spatial dimension has been widely ignored.
This panel proposes an alternative analytical lens to capture the complexity of increasingly globalised and localised dynamics. It focuses on the role of space, place and territory in shaping processes of transformation and in mediating social relations. Political power often revolves around questions of property, citizenship and authority, the way they are spatially mediated and reconfigure the state. Therefore, spatialising the state in Africa means to reconceptualise the state based on an understanding of how space is constructed, negotiated or contested and of how this relates to new patterns of authority. It further means exploring the social as well as spatial trajectories in the reconfiguration of state-society relations. The panel presents conceptually inspired contributions that provide a critical and innovative analytical lens on the spatial dimensions of the state in Africa, based empirical work on the unfolding of patterns of property, citizenship and authority in urban or rural settings. The panel provides a platform for reflecting on diverse manifestations of the state in Africa and for advancing our conceptual tools.

“Spatialiser” l’État en Afrique

Les transformations sociales, économiques et politiques en Afrique sont liées de façon inextricable aux reconfigurations de l’État. Les recherches portant sur ce dernier ont tenté de comprendre ces relations en interrogeant notamment l’ancrage social de l’État; la réflexion autour de la dimension spatiale ayant été jusque-là largement ignorée.
Ce panel propose une perspective analytique différente en vue de saisir la complexité de dynamiques à la fois toujours plus globalisées et localisées. L’accent est précisément mis sur le rôle joué par l’espace (space), le lieu (place) et le territoire (territory) dans les processus de transformation et de médiation des relations sociales. Le pouvoir politique est en effet souvent lié aux questions de propriété, de citoyenneté et d’autorité, mais aussi aux façons dont celles-ci sont menées dans l’espace, participant à la reconfiguration de l’État. Ainsi, « spatialiser » l’État africain implique de repenser le concept d’État à partir d’une réflexion sur les modes de construction, de négociation ou de contestation de l’espace. Il s’agit alors de réfléchir aux nouveaux modèles d’autorité induits par une telle approche et de prendre en compte des trajectoires sociales et spatiales dans la reconfiguration des relations entre État et société. Les contributions vont s’appuyer sur des perspectives théoriques critiques et innovantes fondées sur des données empiriques relatives notamment aux questions de propriété, de citoyenneté et d’autorité en milieu urbain ou rural.

Paper 1

Chinigò Davide / University of Bologna

Claimed Space, Contested Authority and the Struggle for Land in the Malawian Tea Economy

In Malawi, as in other African countries, conflicts over land are central to the reconfiguration of the rural space, intended here as an arena of relations where people and social groups attempt to validate claims to resources by constructing opposing political narratives. The paper analyses state-society relationships through the lens of territoriality and presents the case of the People Land Organisation (PLO), a recently established movement for land reclamation in the tea district of Thyolo in Southern Malawi. The paper presents a discursive analysis of opposing political narratives about access to resources by the PLO, plantation owners, local officials, and traditional authorities. The current conflict over land in Thyolo is regarded in terms of how the rural space is claimed and appropriated, how this informs different ideas of the state, and how such images are refashioned through reinvented views of colonial and postcolonial history. Examining state-society relationships by way of spatial analysis highlights dynamics of state formation from the perspective of how the symbolic and material value of the land is constructed and reproduced and how this leads to the constitution of patterns of property and authority. The paper concludes that the current conflict over land in Thyolo is the result of tensions originating in the process of decolonisation and democratisation, today reflecting tensions in the negotiation of citizenship and the dynamic of state formation.

Paper 2

Hammar Amanda / Copenhagen University

Where the State Resides: Displacement, Authority and Citizenship in Zimbabwe

Neither state-making nor citizen-making – always dynamically articulating processes – are evenly spread across space and time. This corresponds with a view of the state not as a single, institutionally or spatially bounded entity, but rather as a set of partially established yet constantly contested ‘practices, apparatuses and techniques’ (Moore 2005, 7), that vary in their lived contexts (Hansen and Stepputat, 2001; Tsing, 1993), co-exist with other forms of authority (Roitman, 2004; Massey, 1999), and are continually being remade by diverse authorities, citizens and circumstances (Worby, 1998; Das, 2004; Crais, 2003). Territoriality, property relations, and the boundaries of belonging and exclusion are core dimensions of state-making. They often manifest through direct or indirect practices of displacement, confinement and resettlement, when the more familiar sites and scripts of authority and citizenship get dramatically disturbed (Moore 2005, Hammar 2008, 2014).
This paper asks how, in such times of turbulence and dislocation, do the various spaces, structures and technologies of governing get reshaped? It explores what happens to the perceptions, peopling, performances and practices of the state, and the making of citizens, under such conditions. It draws on empirical research on a number of cases of state-generated displacement in Zimbabwe over several decades, both rural and urban. Such cases include evictions of small-scale migrant farmers and the urban poor.

Paper 3

Purdekova Andrea / Oxford University

Coming, Going, and Refusing to Move: Burundi’s Post-Conflict Social Contract Through the Lens of Mobility and Space

The paper analyses post-conflict state-society relations in Burundi through the lens of mobility in three very different rural spaces: ‘peace villages’ for Hutu returnees from Tanzania (Bugendana, SW Burundi), former IDP sites for displaced Tutsi (Gitega, Central Burundi), and dispersed and mixed settlements in Bujumbura-rural. By looking at how placement and displacement are negotiated and contested, the paper offers a more dynamic and differentiated manner of mapping and gauging the nature of state-society relations in a post-conflict context. The paradoxes of mobility aspirations— the returnees who dream of leaving again, the internally displaced who refuse to return to their hills– powerfully reflect on the context of political ‘incorporation’ in Burundi, where citizenship is marked by absences of the state. The case of Burundi shows what a rich source mobilities (more broadly understood as not only coming and going, but being stuck or refusing to move or aspiring to leave again) can be for understanding so-called ‘peace governance’— the politics of ‘coming together’ after conflict and the politics of social ‘ordering’ by the government. These three concrete spaces show us the otherwise elusive state-citizen bond in production, negotiation, under discussion and in question.

Paper 4

Bertoncin Marina / University of Padova

Large Irrigation Development Projects as a Means for Spatialising the States in Sahelian Africa

The aim of this paper is to analyze how the great irrigation projects in Sahelian Africa have represented, first for the colonial power, and then for the state, a powerful tool for control of space. Through the strategy of mise en valeur during the colonial era, and then after independence, state policies for agricultural development have carved out ‘islands of progress’ in rural areas which are distinctly separate from its surroundings. The implementation of these projects proceded by hollowing-out any prior social content: land rights, local expertise, practical use of resources and forms of political organization. Once the preexisting territory was annihilated, modern technologies of territorial and social transformation were applied to the space. By doing this, these enclaves, where the projects developed initially for agricultural production, became a means of spatial control of the areas and further affected both the social organization and cultural dimensions. For example, the great irrigation schemes have represented effective strongholds of state control over the rural regions. However, with the eventual crisis of the projects, forms of ‘transgression’ that undermine the desired unity of the spatial order emerge, which in turn lead to spatial outcomes of contamination between projects and external territories and between ‘tradition’ and modernity, thus requiring the states to redefine the forms for regulating and controlling spatial systems.

Paper 5

Meyer Ursula / Université de Lausanne

At the Margins of the City: Spaces of Contesting State Authority by Private Zoning Actors in Niamey

This paper aims to contribute to reflexion on how state authority is challenged in its legitimacy through the daily practices of land zoning in peripheral urban spaces. It presents empirical results from recent field research conducted in the fast growing Sahelian capital Niamey and challenges the demographic growth narrative as an explanation for its spatial extension. Rather, by focusing on entrepreneurs of zoning as private actors who almost entirely control and possess the space available for the future extension of the capital, it explores how these private entrepreneurs contest State authority though their monopoly on land and space. By challenging institutional procedures and influencing local politics and electoral processes, political as well as economic short term results might be met for both state and private actors, but quests for recognition of property, access and citizenship from other societal groups such as customary land owners or squatters are undermined. Analysis of the everyday practices of land governance in the Nigeren capital suggest that the urban periphery emerges, – and has also emerged repeatedly in the past -, as space where legal and institutional pluralism allow the reconfiguration of statehood and its embeddedness in social and political settings, leading to fragmented authority and hybrid models of land governance.

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