Bureaucratisation and the construction of identities in colonial and postcolonial contexts (1500-2015)

Bureaucratic practices are almost omnipresent in our daily life. We understand bureaucracy as a form of domination (Herrschaft) that pervades all those communities, which are characterised by professionalization, the establishment of hierarchies and the rationalisation of norms. Although bureaucratic practices are often related to the state, they are not restricted to the public sphere. From birth certificates to annual tax declarations, from football club membership cards to the participation in elections, from being affiliated with a tenants’ association to getting a bank loan, or even receiving health care at a clinic, our lives are structured by bureaucratic practices in the private, professional and political spheres. In addition, bureaucratic practices are not just impositions ‘from above’, but have always been re-invented, contested, and reformulated in people’s everyday social lives ‘from below’. Over the last decades the development of multinational corporations and the emergence of neoliberal norms of governance have entailed thoroughgoing transformations of bureaucratic practices. The overwhelming use of statistical data suggests that we live in a bureaucratic universe that places numbers in the centre of power relations in administrations, corporations, associations and in politics. Moreover, many current conflicts are partly related to bureaucratic practices. This may involve states, which aim at controlling people and territories, but also the protagonists of civil wars, pirates, human traffickers, or the sphere of labour. Increasingly, the importance of numerical indicators, benchmarking, record techniques, and quantified evaluations, as well as of multiple procedures of standardization, traceability, and certification has created tensions.

Bureaucracy is a way to organise societies. It has been ‘conquering’ the world for more than five hundred years. However, what may seem as a success story, had different origins in the world, and has been shaped by resistance, transformations and reinterpretations, which have contributed to the re-appropriation of bureaucratic practices according to local circumstances. This becomes particularly apparent in the crucial role of bureaucratic practices in the representation and production of identities, based on processes of identification. Neither Africa nor other parts of the (post-)colonial world have escaped this process. The delimitation of colonial, federal or national territories, resident registration, or identity cards, passports and other permits, statistical surveys using categories such as age, ethnicity and other social and economic parameters, the definition of social affiliation through village associations or tontines, the proliferation of quantification through structural adjustment programmes, inclusion plans and antipoverty programmes…: all these forms of social organisation come along with bureaucratic practices that generate, reinforce, and stabilise different identities and patterns of identification. Often considered merely as cultural, social or political expressions, they also rely upon texts, rules, criteria lists, and categories. Thus, research into colonial and postcolonial contexts offers a broad field of study on the interrelations between bureaucratisation and the construction of identities. Who are “we” and who are the “others”? These old, but on a political level still burning questions have to take into consideration the incorporation of bureaucratic practices in social life, including the significance they may have generated in various contexts.

The summer school will explore these questions in an interdisciplinary, transperiodical and transnational perspective. Based on a trilateral German, French and Senegalese cooperation, we wish to contribute to the academic exchange in African Studies between Europe, Africa and elsewhere. The summer school combines the reading of theory-related texts, the presentation of selected problems and case studies, as well as discussions. Its aim is to provide a solid foundation for further research and reflection, which will open up new perspectives and lead to cutting-edge findings.

The summer school is organised by the transnational research programme “The Bureaucratisation of African Societies” and its institutional partners. The summer school is coordinated by the German Historical Institute in Paris, the Centre de Recherches Internationales (CERI) at SciencesPo Paris, and the Centre de Recherche sur les Politiques Sociales (CREPOS) at Dakar/Saint Louis (Senegal) and generously co-funded by the Université Franco-Allemande.

Confirmed speaker: Peter Becker, Thomas Bierschenk, Simona Cerutti, Birgit Emich, Jean-Pierre Grossein, Carolyn Hamilton, Béatrice Hibou, Matthew S. Hull, Istvàn Kristo-Nagy, Elísio Macamo, Nayanika Mathur, Jean-Pierre Olivier de Sardan, Ursula Rao, Boris Samuel

We welcome young scholars (doctoral students and early postdocs), but also advanced Master students who work on a research project related to the vast and open field of “bureaucratisation and the creation of identities”. Proposals from different disciplines in the social sciences and humanities are welcome, such as history, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and political science. The summer school will be held in French and English. Knowledge in French will be required.

Proposals will be evaluated by Susann Baller, Sévérine Awenengo Dalberto, Béatrice Hibou and Niels F. May. Selection criteria are academic excellence as well as an interest in methodological questions. The affiliation in an African, French, or German university or research institution is an advantage, but not a precondition. Selected candidates will receive financial support for their travel costs.

Please submit your proposal as one PDF file to nmay@dhi-paris.fr before 15 March 2017, including:

  1. an abstract of your project (500 words max.)
  2. your curriculum vitae, including your current status and affiliation as well as your language abilities.
Contact Info:

French-German Summerschool
Venue: German Historical Institute Paris, 8 rue du Parc-Royal, 75003 Paris
Dates: 3 to 7 July 2017
Submission deadline for abstracts: 15 March 2017
The summer school will be held in French and English. Knowledge in French will be required.

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