Ohio University Press · Swallow Press ·

Everyday State and Democracy in Africa
Ethnographic Encounters

Edited by Wale Adebanwi

“Major fresh perspectives on the state in everyday life that will be seminal reading for historians and social scientists as well as for Africanists.”

Frank Trentmann, author of Empire of Things: How We Became a World of Consumers

“Anthropologists, for some time, have successfully deconstructed essentialist notions of ‘the’ state in Africa by focusing on what states do when they are working. The contributors to this book push this approach further: they enquire about how ordinary citizens experience the state and its agents in multiple sites, focusing on the possibilities and constraints of everyday life and the resulting popular grammars of state and democracy. The book should be on the core reading list of every course on state and democracy, in Africa and beyond.”

Thomas Bierschenk, coeditor of States at Work: Dynamics of African Bureaucracies

“Mobilizing the decentering perspectives of ethnography to capture living practices, Everyday State and Democracy in Africa develops an original view from below on the huge changes throughout the continent since the end of the Cold War. The volume convincingly demonstrates that a focus on how the people involved see state and democracy might be more helpful than intricate theoretical discussions. Two themes seem to come back throughout the volume. The first is (unsurprisingly) the role of violence in people’s everyday encounters with the state. The second (maybe more surprising) is that the state is all the more present in people’s perceptions where it seems to be absent.”

Peter Geschiere, author of The Perils of Belonging: Autochthony, Citizenship, and Exclusion in Africa and Europe

Bottom-up case studies, drawn from the perspective of ordinary Africans’ experiences with state bureaucracies, structures, and services, reveal how citizens and states define each other.

This volume examines contemporary citizens’ everyday encounters with the state and democratic processes in Africa. The contributions reveal the intricate and complex ways in which quotidian activities and experiences—from getting an identification card (genuine or fake) to sourcing black-market commodities to dealing with unreliable waste collection—both (re)produce and (re)constitute the state and democracy. This approach from below lends gravity to the mundane and recognizes the value of conceiving state governance not in terms of its stated promises and aspirations but rather in accordance with how people experience it.

Both new and established scholars based in Africa, Europe, and North America cover a wide range of examples from across the continent, including

  • bureaucratic machinery in South Sudan, Nigeria, and Kenya
  • infrastructure and shortages in Chad and Nigeria
  • disciplinarity, subjectivity, and violence in Rwanda, South Africa, and Nigeria
  • the social life of democracy in the Congo, Cameroon, and Mozambique
  • education, welfare, and health in Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burkina Faso

Everyday State and Democracy in Africa demonstrates that ordinary citizens’ encounters with state agencies and institutions define the meanings, discourses, practices, and significance of democratic life, as well its distressing realities.


  • Daniel Agbiboa
  • Victoria Bernal
  • Jean Comaroff
  • John L. Comaroff
  • E. Fouksman
  • Fred Ikanda
  • Lori Leonard
  • Rose Løvgren
  • Ferenc Dávid Markó
  • Ebenezer Obadare
  • Rogers Orock
  • Justin Pearce
  • Katrien Pype
  • Edoardo Quaretta
  • Jennifer Riggan
  • Helle Samuelsen
  • Nicholas Rush Smith
  • Eric Trovalla
  • Ulrika Trovalla

Wale Adebanwi is Presidential Penn Compact Professor of Africana Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. His monographs include Authority Stealing: Anti-Corruption War and Democratic Politics in Post-Military Nigeria, Yorùbá Elites and Ethnic Politics in Nigeria: Ọbáfẹ́mi Awólọ́wọ̀ and Corporate Agency, and The Nation as Grand Narrative: The Nigerian Press and the Politics of Meaning.   More info →

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Retail price: $39.95, S.
Release date: July 2022
20 illus. · 450 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Retail price: $80.00, S.
Release date: July 2022
20 illus. · 450 pages · 6 × 9 in.
Rights:  World

Release date: July 2022
20 illus. · 450 pages
Rights:  World

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