Domesticating Vigilantism in Africa

November 2010
2 black and white illustrations
190 pages
23.4x15.6 cm
ISBN: 9781847010285
Format: Hardback
Library eBook
James Currey

Domesticating Vigilantism in Africa

Tilo Grätz

Edited by Thomas G. Kirsch

An unprecedented overview of anthropological and political science research on vigilantism in Africa which makes an important and innovative contribution to current discussions on the relationship between violent self-justice and state and non-state agencies.
Self-justice and legal self-help groups have been gaining importance throughout Africa. The question of who is entitled to formulate 'legal principles', enact 'justice', police 'morality' and sanction 'wrongdoings' has increasingly become a subject of controversy and conflict. These conflicts focus on the strained relationship between state sovereignty and citizens' self-determination. More particularly, they concern the conditions, modes and means of the legitimate execution of power, and in this volume are seen as a diagnostics as to how social actors in Africa debate and practise socio-political order.
State agencies try to bring vigilante groups under control by channelling their activities, repressing them, or using them for their own interests. Vigilante groups usually must struggle for recognition and acceptance in local socio-political spheres. As several of the contributions in the volume show, legal self-help groups in Africa therefore 'domesticate' themselves by, among other things, seeking legitimation, engaging in publicly acceptable non-vigilante activities, or institutionalizing what often began as a rather unrestrained and 'disorderly' social movement.

Thomas G. Kirsch is Professor & Chair of Social & Cultural Anthropology at the University of Constance, Germany; Tilo Grätz is Senior Research Fellow at the University of Hamburg, Germany & Associate Lecturer at the University of Halle-Wittenberg.

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Table of Contents

Foreword: some further thoughts on comparative study - Ray Abrahams
Vigilantism, state ontologies & encompassment: an introductory essay - Thomas G. Kirsch and Tilo Grätz
Domesticating sovereigns: the changing nature of vigilante groups in South Africa - Lars Buur
Ethnicity, religion & the failure of 'common law' in Nigeria - Johannes Harnischfeger
Devi & his men: the rise & fall of a vigilante movement in Benin - Tilo Grätz
Vigilantes in war: boundary crossing of hunters in Burkina Faso & Côte d'Ivoire - Sten Hagberg and Syna Ouattara
Bodies of power: narratives of selfhood & security in Nigeria - David Pratten
Violence in the name of democracy: community policing, nation-building & vigilante action in South Africa - Thomas G. Kirsch


A welcome addition to [the] literature. [...] The volume's focus on the state recommends it to a much wider circle of readers than Africanists and constitutes an innovative contribution to the anthropology of the state. SOCIAL ANTHROPOLOGY/ANTHROPOLOGIE SOCIALE

[A] fine volume [and an] engaging and informative book. AFRICA

Represents a serious attempt to understand vigilantism on its own terms, and offers insights into how power and authority are continuously negotiated and executed in contemporary Africa. JOURNAL OF MODERN AFRICAN STUDIES