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Town-State Formations on the Edge of the Kalahari

Social-Cultura Dynamics of Centralization in Northern Tswana Kingdoms

Ørnulf Gulbrandsen

While the people of pre-colonial and colonial societies in Africa often lived in scattered, sparse settlements, the people of the Northern Tswana kingdoms (present-day Botswana) were found in large towns with thousands of residents. This is puzzling in view of their location on the edge of the Kalahari, where such concentrations would normally be least expected. Moreover, while pastoralism is generally considered antithetical to the formation of densely settled populations, cattle have featured centrally in these kingdoms' political economy. Breaking away from ecological determinism, the author argues that the role played by cattle in these societies was mediated through social and political processes that favor both state formation and large, compact settlements. The article is particularly concerned with the centripetal forces vested in the cultural and symbolic wealth of Tswana royal towns.

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Contested boundaries

Border disputes, administrative disorder, and state representational practices in Nicaragua (1936–1956)

Jennifer Alvey

This article examines a 20-year border dispute between two adjacent southern interior municipalities in Nicaragua. The dispute acts as window into the politics of state formation and the consolidation of the dictatorship of Anastacio Somoza García (1936–1956). This conflict was waged by locally based “state actors” who contested each other's attempts to stake and extend spatially based claims to authority. Contending parties developed a shared language of contention that I call “administrative disorder”, which tracked closely with accusations of invasion and abuse of authority. Administrative disorder discourses were representational practices that contributed to the discursive construction of the state. They were also the means by which representatives of the state sought to justify or normalize their own activities. As such, these discourses concealed political tensions rooted in patronage networks, municipal formation, land privatization, and ethnic assimilation, which shaped the contours and longevity of the dispute, but remained lurking silences in administrative disorder discourses.

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Border tricksters and the predatory state

Contraband at the Romania-Serbia border during the Yugoslavian embargoes

Cosmin Radu

This article analyzes actions of the Romanian state officials and the Romania-Serbia border region people during the embargoes imposed on Yugoslavia in the 1990s. It shows that the embargo-related contraband trade with its diverse layers and actors is an excellent window for studying state formations. Getting involved in both big contraband and the criminalization of smugglers, different state factions developed specific logics of privatization, transnationalization, and interstitial relations. These developments were connected to both the fantasies of accumulation in the context of embargo and Romanian European Union accession. The article also suggests how to understand continuities between the embargorelated and present state formations. Looking at the interplays among border posts, state officials, and the EU, it shows that the border posts are increasingly dislocated from the state and that they seem to become interstitial parts of a post-state field of power.

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A cosmopolitan Europe?

On "unity in diversity" and the politics of Turkey's EU accession

Katharina Bodirsky

Cosmopolitan visions hold EU-Europe capable of recognizing diversity within limits set by universal principles. This view has gained currency in EU self-representations and among the liberal left as a counter to founding EU-Europe on civilizational unity. Proponents of a cosmopolitan Europe nevertheless partake in a culturalization of politics that enables and obscures processes of state transformation visible in Turkey's EU accession process. Debates on Turkey's EU membership construct a normative representation of EU-Europe that justifies EU accession measures as "normalization." Supporters of a cosmopolitan EU contribute to this political effect by adhering to a liberal distinction between "mere difference" to be tolerated and "disruptive difference" to be contained, which legitimizes an interventionist stance vis-à-vis Turkey. However, changes in state interventions and institutions supported by this normalizing project go beyond installing "unity in diversity" in cultural-political terms. They involve economic de- and reregulation that might entrench social and territorial inequalities.

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Casey Walsh

English abstract: This article explores the process of centralization of water resources by the Mexican nation-state between 1880 and 1940, and, in particular, how the postrevolutionary state facilitated, after 1920, the transference of control over the Topo Chico mineral springs from the local agrarian community to industrial bottling companies. Using archival evidence, it highlights the importance of science and law in this process and argues that centralization must be understood in terms of “primitive accumulation.” The article focuses on hot mineral springs, which provide a privileged window on centralization and primitive accumulation but are largely ignored in the historiography of water.

Spanish abstract: El artículo explora el proceso de centralización de los recursos hídricos por parte del Estado Mexicano entre 1880–1940, y particularmente analiza la manera en que después de 1920 el estado posrevolucionario facilitó la transferencia del control de las comunidades agrarias locales de los manantiales de Topo Chico, a las empresas embotelladoras industriales. Utilizando fuentes de archivo, el autor evidencia la importancia de la ciencia y el derecho en este proceso, y muestra que la centralización debe entenderse con base en la “acumulación primitiva”. Este artículo se centra en el estudio de las fuentes minerales termales, las cuales a pesar de ser una ventana privilegiada para la centralización y la acumulación primitiva, han sido ampliamente ignoradas por la historiografía hídrica.

French abstract: Cet article explore le processus de centralisation des ressources hydriques par l'Etat-nation mexicain entre 1880 et 1940, et en particulier la façon dont l'Etat postrévolutionnaire a facilité, à partir de 1920, le transfert du contrôle des sources hydriques de Topo Chico des communautés agraires locales aux entreprises d'embouteillage industriels. Fondé sur les sources documentaires archivistiques, il souligne l'importance de la science et du droit dans ce processus, et fait valoir que la centralisation doit être comprise en termes «d'accumulation primitive». L'article se concentre sur les sources d'eaux minérales chaudes, qui fournissent une fenêtre privilégiée sur la centralisation et l'accumulation primitive, mais sont largement ignorées dans l'historiographie de l'eau.

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Finn Stepputat

This article discusses the recent revision of the notion of sovereignty that emphasizes de facto rather than de jure sovereignty, understanding sovereignty as an effect of performative claims to sovereignty. As an implication of this approach, we come to see political landscapes as formed by multiple, overlapping, coexisting, and sometimes competing claims to sovereignty operating within and across boundaries. The article suggests using “formations of sovereignty” as a way of understanding these political landscapes and the way they change over time in specific areas. Empirically, the article analyzes different formations of sovereignty in a Guatemalan municipality at the border with Mexico, from before the civil war of the early 1980s to the present.

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Bruce O'Neill, Helene Maria Kyed, Pauline Peters, Ruy Llera Blanes and Hege Toje

Martin Demant Frederiksen, Young Men, Time, and Boredom in the Republic of Georgia (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2013), 214 pp. ISBN 9781439909188.

Didier Fassin, Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013), 320 pp. ISBN 9780745664798.

Ørnulf Gulbrandsen, The State and the Social: State Formation in Botswana and Its Pre-colonial and Colonial Genealogies (New York: Berghahn Books, 2014), 343 pp. ISBN 9781782383253.

Franco La Cecla and Piero Zanini, The Culture of Ethics, trans. Lydia G. Cochrane (Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press, 2013), 119 pp. ISBN 9780984201044.

Madeleine Reeves, Border Work: Spatial Lives of the State in Rural Central Asia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014), 292 pp. ISBN 9780801477065.

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Michael K. Bess

The building of motor roads in Latin America, as elsewhere, was an activity essential to the history of modernization and state formation in the twentieth century. Governments, private companies, and regional boosters launched construction efforts with the goal of reducing travel times, linking cities and towns together, and stimulating economic development. In the process, these initiatives also changed the way citizens thought about the nation-state. New highways helped give shape to national identity, not only by making more of the countryside traversable, but also by putting citizens and foreigners in greater contact. Likewise, motor tourism identified and reified regional cultural symbols, transforming them into representations of that nation, and packaging them for easy consumption by travelers on weekend getaways.

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Pamela Ballinger and Kristen P. Ghodsee

Scholars of religion have increasingly brought secularism within the framework of critical studies of spirituality, analyzing the dialogic relationship between religions and secularisms past and present. This emerging field of “postsecularist” studies examines the multiple meanings and practices that different cultures and societies attach to the concepts of “religion,” “faith,” and “piety.” The articles presented in this special section of Aspasia contribute to these larger academic debates by focusing on the multiethnic and historically pluralistic region of Southeastern Europe, an area too often ignored in larger scholarly discussions that have focused primarily on Western Europe and the so-called Third World. More important, the articles in this volume demonstrate how secularization projects are intricately interwoven with gender relations in any given society. Collectively, the articles urge readers to draw connections between the shifting spiritual cartographies, state formations, and definitions of appropriate masculinity and femininity of particular Southeastern European societies.

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City, Community, Nation, State

Participation and Spectacle

Judith Kapferer

The events and sites of a national holiday (17 May in Bergen, Norway) are the grounds from which to draw out meanings of nationalism and tradition, and analyze ideologies of egalitarianism and individualism in a social democratic welfare state. My project has two aims: to open up and deconstruct aspects of the material and symbolic life of the city, and to engage an examination of patterns of local and national community life in relation to shifting evaluations of localism and nationalism within the a changing state formation. Bergen can be thought of as a case study of social order and control, with women, children, and reverence for home life, highlighted in the town’s celebrations. The symbolism of the day discovers community and state in a difficult relation between domestic communities and nationalist ideology in the maintenance of governmentality, a relation mediated by the city itself.