STREAM: Legal Bureaucracies: Encounters, Negotiations and Imaginaries

STREAM: Legal Bureaucracies: Encounters, Negotiations and Imaginaries

This panel stream explores the law and the state across the African continent, through an emphasis on administration and everyday legal infrastructures. In African Studies, longer legacies of research on legal arrangements and political forms have been joined by important investigations of bureaucratic process. In all three areas, a key starting point has been the limited reach of official authority, and the ways people strive for regularity or navigate crisis beyond – or often in the face of – the presence of state institutions. Combining these, this panel stream’s organising concept of legal bureaucracies opens up fresh spaces for considering how people live with and through being governed. More than simply something to avoid, or even something engaged with in a narrowly functional manner, legal administrative process foregrounds complex encounters. These involve people attempting to get things done, the imaginative frameworks and the relationships within which they do so, and the resonances and disjunctures between official and popular conceptions. They therefore also underline expertise and the law itself – not simply power and hierarchy – in the work of practitioners and officials. At the same time, this focus invites us to revisit questions of order and disorder, both stepping away from and recasting the more spectacular and explicitly performative dimensions of the law.

Panels and papers will explore the ways in which ordinary people come into contact with legal bureaucracies within state and non-state institutions, looking, for example, at encounters with legal professionals, court staff and government officials. From the mundane to the spectacular, these encounters have concrete effects on people’s lives, shaping what it means to be a citizen (or not), as well as intervening in private realms.

We welcome contributions that bring novel lenses to bear upon historical and contemporary legal-bureaucratic interactions.

If you have any queries or suggestions please contact Jessica Johnson (, Maxim Bolt (, George Hamandishe Karekwaivanane ( For panel and paper submissions please follow the instructions on the website 

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