Decolonizing state theory, or Weber through a global lens: Situating the study of the state in its contexts of German colonization of Africa and the institutionalization of African Studies

Authors: Aharon De Grassi*, San Jose State University
Topics: Political Geography, Africa, Social Theory
Keywords: state, theory, Weber, colonialism, Africa, corruption, political geography
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/7/2021
Start / End Time: 4:40 PM / 5:55 PM
Room: Virtual 31
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Conceptualizing the state, corruption, and patronage is crucial to understanding and changing geographies of injustice and liberation, so how are we to grapple with these concepts’ problematic genealogies? Rather than unquestioningly rely on these concepts as self-evident explanatory forces that shape geographies and operate geographically, instead, for progressive analysts and advocates to be effective, we must also critically reflect on how these taken-for-granted political concepts have been formalized and institutionalized through racist, sexist, and imperialist thought and practice. This presentation engages African studies in order to provincialize foundational work on the state and territory by the sociologist Max Weber. I firstly sketch Weber’s multiple familial connections with the colonization of Africa (particularly Congo, Cameroon, and Namibia) in order to situate Weber’s analytic emphasis on ideal-type categories related to politics and the state as a part of a contradictory imperial tendency to simultaneously emphasize separate societies, categories and identities. Secondly, I contribute to enabling alternative theorizations of states, politics, sovereignty and territory by de-naturalizing Weberian approaches with an account of the specific post-war personal and institutional academic networks through which Weberian approaches were institutionalized in African Studies. This calls for moving beyond prevailing tendencies of either uncritical pragmatism that pathologizes ‘African characteristics’ as insufficiently state-like according to Weberian definitions, or radical stenographers content merely to invoke such characteristics to dismiss Weberian definitions without regard to what is to be done (the ostensible characteristics include relative uneveness/porosity of African state territories, their legally pluralism, and the historic importance of trade and mobility).

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