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Provincializing Weber through a Global Lens: Some Origins of State Theory in the Colonization of Africa, and its Post-War Institutionalization in African Studies

Authors: Aharon De Grassi*, San Jose State University
Topics: Political Geography, Africa, Geographic Theory
Keywords: State theory, colonialism, Weber, Africa, territory, sovereignty
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


African governments are often critiqued as insufficiently state-like according to taken-for-granted Weberian definitions, as well as used as instances to critique such definitions. However, both positions invoke and reify (a) the purportedly porous and patchy nature of African state territories, (b) such countries' legal pluralism in the continued prominence of traditional authorities spanning a so-called public-private dichotomy, and (c) emphases on histories of mobility, resource enclaves and 'extraverted' trade. This presentation, in contrast, uses a geographic approach to engage African studies in order to provincialize such foundational work on the state and territory by Max Weber. Firstly, I analytically root Weber’s emphasis on ideal types in relation to Weber’s own multiple direct familial connections with the highest levels of German and Belgian colonization of Africa (particularly Cameroon, Congo and Namibia), situating his ontology and epistemology as a part of a contradictory racist imperial tendency to simultaneously emphasize separate societies, categories and identities. Secondly, I contribute to enabling alternative, critical, decolonized and geographically informed theorizations of states, sovereignty, territory, corruption and patronage by de-naturalizing Weberian approaches in African Studies through a geographic archaeology of the specific post-World War II personal, capital-philanthropic and institutional academic networks through which Weberian approaches to the state spread and were institutionalized as situated practices by which Western policy elites and scholars attempted to study and influence newly independent African countries amidst the turbulences of the emerging Cold War.

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