Post-liberal government and popular claim-making in Southern Africa

Academy of Finland 2016-2020
Project coordinator: Professor Jeremy Gould



This project, funded under a four-year grant from the Academy of Finland (2015-2019), seeks to address a lacuna in the theoretical understanding of contemporary African state formation. This attempt involves a comparative empirical interrogation of the category of post-liberal government in four southern African jurisdictions. Postcolonial legacies of sectional factionalism, state violence and corruption dominate popular impressions of African politics. Such pathologies of Africa government, both real and imagined, are not the focus of this study. Such legacies, do, however, highlight the practical accomplishments of state formation in our case jurisdictions – characterized by sustained political stability and economic growth, as well as by a growing culture of political pluralism and deliberation. This project is focused on understanding the complex governmental logics informing how state formation in such polities is co-produced through the fraught complicity of harried rulers and aggrieved citizen populations in the real time of contemporary African politics.

Through a systematically coordinated, cross-case comparison of ethnographic and secondary data in Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, our project seeks to map the negotiation and instantiation, by the ruling elites and the governed masses, of political orders which elude understanding via the premises and analytical categories of liberal political theory. To accomplish this our case studies singles out empirical interactions between the rulers and the ruled that revolve around instances of popular claim-making by nominally ‘marginal’ groups (urban squatters and returning migrants, among others). These interactions are scrutinized against the backdrop of the postcolonial legal order, with its specific resonances of exceptionalism and discretionary powers, and in terms of the tangible ways that claim-making populations frame their entitlements to recognition.



Jeremy Gould

Professor Jeremy Gould is the project coordinator of the project. He has a PhD in Anthropology but he has worked most of his academic life in an interdisciplinary Development Studies environment. His primary geographical area of interest is Southern Africa, where he have carried out the bulk of my fieldwork. Zambia has provided my main field sites. His key current concern relates to the inter-relation of law and politics postcolonial African state formation. I have also worked on the politics of development aid, rural small-holder livelihood strategies and on the political dynamics of marginal rural communities.

Lalli Metsola

Dr. Lalli Metsola works in the project as a postdoctoral researcher. He has a long track record of studying Southern Africa, particularly Namibia. Within the project, his component focuses on the claims and policies concerning housing and basic amenities in the urban fringes of Windhoek and Gaborone.

Saana Hansen

Saana works in the project as a Doctoral student. Her research interests include internal and cross-border displacement in Sub-Saharan Africa, politics of belonging, identity building and state formation. In her ethnographic Doctoral Study she uses the return migration of Zimbabweans from neighbouring Southern African countries as an avenue for exploring the dynamics of returnee urban emplacement. 



List of publications


Jyväskylä Development Studies Symposium

November 30 - December 1, 2016