P144 – Speaking and Performing the State: Exploring State Agent Rationalities
8 July, 17:30 – 19:00

Hansson Stina / University of Gothenburg/School of Global Studies
Eriksson Baaz Maria / Nordic Africa Institute/Uppsala University


What a particular state is and how it takes shape as a field of actions is partly a result of how it is conceived of by the agents that perform its functions. In contrast to perspectives that rely on an image of the state as an ahistorical entity, and a universal function of governance, this panel explores how state agents make sense of particular states in Africa in relation to historical trajectories, as well as specific political, social and economic conditions. Rather than generalised solutions based on a too familiar narrative of void and failure, a multiplicity of narratives is needed in order to better understand the possibility of the state, as well as what it comes to mean and how it is acted in a range of fields from services provision to international politics. State agent narratives are particularly suited for exploring the meaning of the state as state agents in their role both relate to conceptions of what the state is and negotiate the possibilities and limitations of its field of action. This panel invites papers based on empirical studies that explore state agent logics and rationalities through discourse or practice. In particular, it invites papers that problematize and/or go beyond representations of corruption, clientilism and self-interest and explore state agent rationalities in relation to various social, political and economic dynamics.

Parler et performer les États: explorer les rationalités d’agents de l’État

Le sens d’un État spécifique et le champ d’actions qui le forment résultent en partie de la façon dont les représentants de l’État, qui en exécutent les fonctions, conçoivent cet État. Contrairement aux perspectives qui postulent l’État comme une entité ahistorique et une fonction universelle de gouvernance, ce panel examine comment les agents de l’État interprètent des États spécifiques par rapport à des trajectoires historiques, ainsi qu’à des conditions politiques, sociales et économiques spécifiques.  Plutôt que des solutions généralisées qui se fondent sur une narration trop connue de l’échec des États africains, une multiplicité de représentations est nécessaire pour mieux comprendre la possibilité et la signification de l’État ainsi que l’éventail de domaines dans lesquels l’État se concrétise, de la fourniture de service jusqu’à la politique internationale. C’est à travers leur métier que les agents de l’État construisent leurs conceptions de l’État et négocient les possibilités et les limites de son champ d’action. Par conséquent, les narrations des représentants de l’État constituent des lieux adéquats pour examiner ce que signifie l’État. Basé sur des études empiriques, ce panel examine les logiques et les rationalités des agents de l’État, à travers leurs narrations et leurs pratiques. L’objectif est de problématiser et/ou de dépasser les représentations de corruption, de clientélisme et d’intérêt personnel et d’examiner une pluralité de narrations par rapport à différentes dynamiques sociales, politiques et économiques.

Paper 1

Jarroux Pauline / Centre Norbert Elias, EHESS Marseille

School District Officers, Educational Public Services and Emotional Rationalities in Benin

Studying school district administrations constitutes an interesting point of entry to understand how the State is locally performed and perceived in Benin. As deconcentrated structures, they are responsible for managing the daily functioning of public primary schools under their jurisdiction and are presented as the “Ministry’s eyes” at the local level.
School Inspectors and Pedagogical Advisors often complain about the bad quality of education and the lack of professional consciousness of teachers, due to the politisation of administration and to recruitment issues. Though, in managing their own relations to teachers, they are often guided by some emotional rationalities, which sometimes appear as contradictory to the well delivery of educational services, but which can also be presented as an efficient way to solve teacher-related, i.e. educational problems.
In my opinion, these “double binds” put the stress on the double identity of the school officers: although they represent the State authority in front of the teachers, they have been teachers themselves and share the same perception of a “poor and hard profession”; a perception that has been socially and politically constructed over the last decades.
The paper proposes to explore the dynamics of these emotional rationalities, thus attempting to shed a new light on the way the State is performed at the local level in Benin.

Paper 2

Diallo Mariama / Centre Norbert Elias/EHESS

Ethnographie des pratiques de surveillance des aires protégées: Contribution à l’analyse des multiples rationalités des agents des parcs nationaux au Sénégal

L’objet de cette communication est de montrer la pluralité de rationalités des agents des parcs nationaux au Sénégal. L’enjeu est d’analyser comment les agents de l’Etat, à travers des pratiques de surveillance d’une aire protégée, font l’Etat au quotidien. Ces pratiques au quotidien révèlent une certaine transgression ou contournement des règles officielles de surveillance, donc qui ne sont pas en adéquation avec la législation en vigueur. Souvent expliquées sous l’angle de la corruption, du clientélisme ou encore du néo-patrimonialisme, je démontrerai dans cette communication, que ces pratiques, même si elles ne sont pas conformes avec les normes officielles de l’Etat ont pour but de rendre davantage efficace le service public en l’occurrence la Direction des Parcs Nationaux. La surveillance au quotidien du Parc National du Delta du Saloum au Sénégal révèle un faible recours aux normes officielles de l’Etat et repose souvent sur des
bricolages et des compromis, notamment avec les populations locales dans un contexte de recrudescence des mobilisations collectives structurées autour d’associations villageoises. Face à ces mobilisations collectives légitimisées par le recours de plus en plus à l’approche participative, qui est devenue une des conditions des financements de l’aide au développement, les agents de l’Etat, adaptent au quotidien leurs pratiques qui révèlent l’existence d’un pluralisme de rationalités.

Paper 3

Hagmann Tobias / Department of Society and Globalisation, Roskilde University

Sovereign Afterlives: the Reproduction of Governmental Technologies after State Collapse in Somalia

This paper considers a particular empirical puzzle that has relevance for the study of state and non-state politics in Africa and beyond; What happened to the Somali state after the downfall of the Barre government in 1991? It is commonly assumed that the two are identical as the collapse of the socialist-military dictatorship signified the end of a functioning public administration within Somalia. While it is true that the Somali state as a ‘coercion wielding organization’ (Tilly 1992) ceased to exist in 1991, it did not disappear entirely from people’s lives as non-state actors not only engaged in governance tasks, but began to reproduce stately artefacts, meanings and practices. My paper describes the re-emergence of these governmental technologies as specters of a defunct Somali Democratic Republic that continue to haunt the Somali territories. I look at three distinct stately things; first, the reprinting and continued circulation of legal tender (the Somali shilling) by S
omali businessmen, second; the recycling of state imaginaries by various political groups who make discursive reference to Somali nationalist figurehead Mohammed Abdullah Hassan (nicknamed ‘Sayyid’ or ‘Mad Mullah’) and third, the diplomatic relations of the Somali phantom state by self-sponsored Somali diplomats. Drawing on Michael Taussig (1997) and Nikolas Rose and Peter Miller (1992) I propose the concept of ‘sovereign afterlives’ to describe these stately things that survived Somali state collapse.

Paper 4

Andreetta Sophie / University of Liège

Kolloch Annalena / Johannes Gutenberg University, Mainz

Paper title : “On se débrouille”, or how to be a good judge when the state lets you down?

Over the last couple of years, Beninese magistrates have been on strike for months in a row. In 2012, it was about the Ministry of Justice implying corruption issues. In 2013, it was about independence and fear of political infringement. In 2014, it was about the most recent appointments. When it comes to judges from the bench, most of them complain about their substantial workload, low pay and poor working conditions. They also highlight the discrepancies between the magistrate’s social status and what their families expect from them, the standards of living that people assume that they have. In short, there seems to be a professional malaise within the Beninese bench, who feel like the state is letting them down, yet judges also insist on the importance of their work, and of doing it right.
This is why, for the purpose of this paper, we will be looking at the Beninese judges’ discourses and representations on their own social and professional status. What does it mean to be a judge in Benin today? Why do young lawyers choose that professional path over other legal careers? How do they ‘do their job right’ and what are the obstacles to it? Considering both age and gender, we are also trying to look at what it means to be a civil servant today, when the state is no longer the only – or the most promising – employer for legal practitioners.

Paper 5

Turner Simon / University of Copenhagen

The State of Fantasies in Rwanda

In Rwanda anything is possible –and anyone who questions the megalomaniac fantasies of Africa’s new Singapore – is an Afro-pessimist, a neo-colonialist and a general party pooper. This seems to be the message from most of the state bureaucrats whom I encountered doing fieldwork in Rwanda. The charismatic locus of this fantasy is president Kagame, who in Twitter or at meetings for the population at donor meetings and investor conferences conjures up the image of a future Rwanda that is peaceful and prosperous, modern and clean. This is not a miracle made in heaven (or in Washington, Brussels or London), however, he reminds us. This is the result of hard work and of believing in Africa. People know it may not happen – when pushed – but they also believe that it is necessary to believe in these visions.

This paper explores how government officials at different levels relate to this narrative of development and argues that despite the phantasmic nature of these development plans, they want to believe in them. It explores the role of charisma (Weber) and fantasies of a future in state building (Taussig, De Boeck) and in bureaucratic planning.

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