Accepted paper:

Neighbourhood Chiefs in Urban DRC: "The State is Me, the State is You, the State is All of Us"


Stephanie Perazzone (University of Geneva)

Paper short abstract:

This article interrogates current global representations of the postcolonial 'African state' by examining the broader effects of mundane discursive and socio-material practices on the effective ideational and performative reproduction of statehood in urban Congo.

Paper long abstract:

Drawing on a growing body of literature within African studies that concerns itself with the practices and discourses of the state in postcolonial Africa against prescriptive paradigms of state failure and fragility, this text offers a critical standpoint on conceptual assumptions that often see the African state in binary terms: either dead or salvageable, institutional or informal, as 'image' or as practice. Moving beyond obvious discrepancies between formal rules and informal practices, and instances of overt, spectacular violence, this article shifts the focus on 'poor' governance to studying the coexistence of subtle or invisible violence on the one hand, and, on the other, the widespread collaborative practices at work between 'street-level bureaucrats' and ordinary urbanites. On a daily basis, neighborhood chiefs, census takers, police officiers, students, hair dressers, the homeless, priests, clerks and other residents and state agents engage in verbal, embodied and dynamic struggles to manage, access, and control collective goods and services. Based on ethnographic data collected in Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Goma, this article argues therefore that the discursive and socio-material practices of surveillance and community mediation produce broader - yet ambivalent - effects of 'state distanciation' and 'state humanisation.' This ambivalence of statehood, it is further speculated, should not be seen as a challenge or an obstacle to the re-creation of the state's public mandate, but as inherently part of its ideational and performative content. Ambivalence here is both a field of new possibilities and the invisible ground for breeding the ordinary violence of state governmentality.

panel Econ31
Continuity and disruption in public service provision