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States of Violence

Politics, Youth, and Memory in Contemporary Africa
Edna G. Bay and Donald L. Donham, eds.

BUY Cloth · 320 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813925691 · $55.00 · Oct 2006
BUY Paper · 320 pp. · 6.125 × 9.25 · ISBN 9780813925776 · $27.50 · Dec 2007

The essayists whose work is collected here -- historians, anthropologists, and political scientists -- bring their diverse disciplinary perspectives to bear on various forms of violence that have plagued recent African history. Exploring violence as part of political economy and rejecting stereotypical explanations of African violence as endemic or natural to African cultures, the essays examine a continent where the boundaries on acceptable force are always shifting and the distinction between violence by the state and against the state is not always clear.

Many of the essays address generational tensions through the role of African youth, which in this context is almost exclusively male. The violence perpetrated by young men stems not only from ideologies of masculinity but also from a frustration over both their own unrealized adulthood and the failure of an adult leadership whose interaction with the youth often seems limited to enlisting them in more bloodshed. Other essays examine the temptation in an atmosphere of violence to exploit the malleability of memory to construct, or reconstruct, histories in order to justify the sacrifice and shifts of power brought on by that violence.

Wide-ranging but sharply focused, States of Violence takes in power struggles in Sierra Leone, nationalism in postcolonial Zimbabwe, the Bakassi boys of Nigeria, and offers probing examinations of such pivotal events as the Rwandan genocide and the Alexandra Rebellion, shedding new light on the role of each in the drama being played out in this troubled continent.

ContributorsWilliam Reno, Northwestern University * Joanna Davidson, Emory University * Daniel Smith, Brown University * Elaine Salo, University of Cape Town * Martha Carey, Emory University * Jocelyn Alexander, Bristol University * Belinda Bozzoli, University of Witswatersrand * Timothy Longman, Vassar College

About the Author(s): 

"By focusing on the participation and consequences for ordinary people, this collection offers a fresh perspective on the eruption of violence in sub-Saharan Africa. None of the contributions takes the easy way out—either by claiming any special propensity of Africans to violence, or by calling attention to titillating aspects of the violence itself. Rather, they offer ‘thick descriptions’ of particular violent episodes to develop their contexts and the larger causes that made them happen. The case studies, drawn from field research in Guinea-Bissau, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, search for the meaning of specific instances of collective violence to the individuals caught up in them."—Nelson Kasfir, Dartmouth College

"This coherently assembled set of contributions illuminates crucial aspects of the disorder and insecurity afflicting much of contemporary Africa. The potent social force of a marginalized youth generation is explored in its different manifestations in a variety of settings by an excellent roster of scholars."—Crawford Young, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, University of Wisconsin, Madison

"Unmatched in its ethnographic depth and attention to critical dimensions of African conflicts.... This volume cuts across the continent and across several intertwining themes to provide highly contextual analyses within a well-definedframework." —Catherine Besteman, Colby College, editor of Violence: A Reader

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