SARR Header
SARR Banner
SARR Home About SARR Regional Projects Photo Gallery Reports Papers & Publications

Papers and Publications


Click on citation for full text of article.


Davidson, J. (2010). Cultivating knowledge: Development, dissemblance and discursive contradictions among the Diola of Guinea-Bissau. American Ethnologist. 37(2), 212-226.


Development practitioners are eager to "learn from farmers" in their efforts to address Africa's deteriorating agricultural output. But many agrarian groups, such as Diola rice cultivators in Guinea-Bissau, regulate the circulation of knowledge—whether about agriculture, household economy, or day-to-day activities. In this article, I thus problematize the assumptions that knowledge is an extractable resource, that more knowledge is better, and that democratized knowledge leads to progress. I consider how the Diola tendency to circumscribe information both challenges external development objectives and contours the ways Diola themselves confront their declining economic conditions.


Davidson, J. (2009). "We Work Hard": Customary Imperatives of the Diola Work Regime in the Context of Environmental and Economic Change. African Studies Review. 52(2), 119-142.


Hard work is a core value among Diola rice cultivators in Guinea-Bissau. This essay explores Diola attitudes toward work in the context of recent changes in their natural and social environment. It asks why Diola maintain a particular work regime even when they admit that it is not actually working for them. The intrinsic characteristics of wet rice cultivation, the tightly woven web of social relations involved in Diola agricultural practices, and the religious ideals with which these practices are linked reinforce one another and serve as powerful drivers of continuity. But given the decreasing viability of wet rice cultivation in this region, Diola work is increasingly detached from the products it is meant to generate. Because Diola farmers remain committed to these work practices in the face of their acknowledged inability to meet subsistence needs, Diola work has become a "paradox of custom."


Nugent, D. (2010). States, secrecy, subversives: APRA and political fantasy in mid- 20th-century Peru. American Ethnologist, 37(4), 681-702).


During the regime of Manuel Odría (1948–56), state officials in the northern Peruvian Andes came to believe that their efforts to govern were being systematically thwarted by APRA, an outlawed political party forced underground by government repression. Officials concluded that the party had elaborated a subterranean political apparatus of remarkable scope and power, one that was largely invisible to the naked eye. I draw on officials' fears of a dark and dangerous counterstate to cross-examine the literature on state formation. State theory has been predicated on the inevitability of state power, which makes it difficult to account for state crisis and also to grasp the highly contingent nature of successful efforts to rule. Much can be learned about state formation by examining moments in which political rule falters or fails, for it is then that the lineaments of power and control that otherwise remain masked become visible.


Krupa, C. (2010). State by Proxy: Privatized Government in the Andes. Comparative Studies in Society and History, 52(2), 319-350.


Recent ethnographic work on the state has exposed a crack in one of the founding myths of modern political power. Despite the state's transcendental claim to wielding absolute, exclusive authority within national territory, scholars have shown that in much of the world there are, in fact, "too many actors competing to perform as state," sites where various power blocs "are acting as the state and producing the same powerful effects" (Aretxaga 2003: 396, 398) Achille Mbembe (2001: 74), writing of the external fiscal controls imposed upon African countries during the late 1980s, has termed this a condition of "fractionated sovereignty"--the dispersal of official state functions among various non-state actors. There is, as Mbembe suggests, "nothing particularly African" about this situation (ibid.). Around the world, the power of various "shadow" organizations like arms dealers and paramilitary groups seems increasingly to depend upon their ability to out-perform the state in many of its definitive functions, from the provision of security and welfare to the collection of taxes and administration of justice (Nugent 1999; Nordstrom 2004; Hansen 2005). These observations present a serious challenge to conventional state theory. They force us to consider whether such conditions of fragmented, competitive statecraft might be better understood not as deviant exceptions to otherwise centralized political systems but, rather, as the way that government is actually experienced in much of the world today.


Krupa, C. (2009). Histories in red: Ways of seeing lynching in Ecuador. American Ethnologist 36(1), 20-39.


In this article, I examine the ways that ongoing "spectacle" lynchings in highland Ecuador have come to generate public opposition to the country's indigenous movement and the political transformations it advocates. Focusing my analysis on the recent lynching of an Afro-Ecuadorian migrant in a small Andean town, I argue for an approach to public violence that directs attention back to the body of the victim and the significations attached to it. I draw influence from studies of U.S. lynchings to ask about the relationship between visual representations of violence and constructions of political illegitimacy in rapidly transforming social formations.

Kabamba, Patience, C. (2010). 'Heart of Darkness,' Current images of the DRC and their theoretical underpinning. Anthropological Theory, 10(3), 265-301.  


This article provides a critical overview of dominant images of Africa in general and of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in particular, in Western media as well as some scholarly literature. I then go on to show that these images are products of a very specific conception of the state and sovereignty. The study is primarily concerned with the nature of the African postcolonial state: is it failed or not? Is it absent or not? What role has it afforded new ethnic networks? Scholars of the state in Africa argue that it is ‘weak’ or has ‘failed’. When they do so they are drawing on the evidence of a real crisis prevalent in state structures in Africa today — however, as the study shows, they conflate the absence of government with the absence of governance. I argue that the state has not disappeared, but many of its traditional roles such as the provision of education, infrastructure, and security have been taken over by subordinate groups, mostly mobilized along ethnic lines.