Creativity and Constraint on African State Boundaries

Borderlands are among the most dynamic social spheres in Africa. Here, where a social technology of control imported from outside the continent shapes social life, we find the most creative appropriations of state institutions and see new social forms emerge from it. With this strong link between state interventions and new social dynamics, state boundaries are ideal places to inquire into the dynamics of adaptation and creativity.

The project uses case studies in three very different borderlands to describe how the possibilityand need to adapt to institutionalisations implemented from above contributes to the emergence of novel forms of social actions, and how the border as an institution is changed in the process.Comparing the borderlands between Namibia and Angola, South Africa and Zimbabwe, and Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Burkina Faso, we strive to isolate factors that engender social creativity, and to understand whether they simultaneously limit the state’s capacity to project its vision on the borderland. We analyse the relation between the degree of institutionalisation from above and the likelihood of creativity to emerge from the interaction of a local population with the institution, and try to assess longer-term structural consequences of the process. The three case studies are linked by a systematic selection of cases to represent different border histories and different political settings, by a shared methodology and by shared work packages making data mutually comparable.

In a first phase, the case studies will produce an overview of relevant actors and the institutionalisations emerging from their interplay. They will describe how technologies of border control work in practice and how they influence the scope of action for specific groups. Archival data on the institutionalisation of the borders will complement field data.

In a second step, three groups of actors will be identified in each case study for an in-depth comparison of the relation between their everyday life and the border. How and why do they come into contact with social technologies of the border, and how does this contact influence their everyday life? How exactly is the emergence of creative actions linked to structural conditions given by the border, and how far can it in turn change them?

These questions address the central theoretical concerns of the Priority Programme in an empirical field that has increasing relevance for national and international political actors. Creative dynamics between institutions and social actors in borderlands generate and define licit and illicit trade, corruption, migration or cross-border conflict. By analysing concrete border situation from the theoretical perspective of the Priority Programme, the project is expected to generate important new insights for borderland studies as well as for policy actors.

The project relies on qualitative methods, most importantly long-term participant observation and everyday conversations. Additional data will be gathered through more formalised interviews of officials and life histories of border actors.