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At the limits of state governance : territory, property and state making in Lenje Chiefdom, rural Zambia

Rosén, Linus


African state property regimes – embedded in a racialized structure of land ownership that stretches back centuries – are at the center of contemporary land struggles. At present, the Zambian government is appropriating ‘traditional land’, controlled by chiefs and headmen molded through colonial rule, in an effort to bring it into the fold of ‘modernity’. On paper this process appears as a powerful state-building project. Yet on the ground it is riddled with legal contingency, with land survey beacons appearing unexpectedly on people’s doorsteps, and chiefs finding themselves torn between asserting their sovereignty and maintaining recognition by the state

This thesis examines the material and conceptual remaking of chiefly lands as constitutive of new forms of exclusion and political authority. Yet, instead of focusing on the ‘achievements’ of state power, analytical attention is placed on the creative ways state governance is subverted by chiefly obstruction, insubordinate peoples and unruly nature. Drawing on long-term fieldwork and archival research, the thesis argues that the process of ‘state making’ and its effects are inseparable from the myriad material practices that thwart state power. A conceptualization of ‘boundaries’ is developed to capture how relations of stately and chiefly power operate on an unstable political landscape. The analysis knits together insights from legal pluralism, political ecology, critical geography, anthropology and postcolonial theory in a grounded reading of everyday forms of state formation that captures how colonial histories and spatialities intertwine with present-day politics.

Building on this analytical foundation, the thesis links up four case studies of ‘state making’: (I) the colonial racialization and sedentarization of African bodies, and their refusals to conform to colonial territoriality, (II) the government enclosure of a forest repeatedly reoccupied by chiefly authority (III) the emplacement of survey beacons on village land, and their demolition by local inhabitants, and (IV) the promotion of statesanctioned title deeds on customary land, and their reinvention as implements of chiefly control. Each case makes visible the fissures of state power and how creative people exploit indeterminacies to resist eviction and reassert their claims to home and land. Through a recognition of ‘ordinary people’ as political protagonists, fully capable of contestation and critique, the thesis shows how marginalized people continuously test the limits of state governance, and how such practices are not ‘irregularities’ to otherwise effective performances of governance, but crucial political enactments that constitute new forms of property, territory and an uneven and variable state.


state making; boundaries; land struggles; resistance; property; territory, chieftainship; Zambia

Publicerad i

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae
2020, nummer: 2020:67ISBN: 978-91-7760-652-9, eISBN: 978-91-7760-653-6
Utgivare: Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

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