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.

Confirmed Panels

Panel 1: Legal Bureaucracies: States, Citizens, and Publics

Chair: Karekwaivanane, George

  • Domesticating security, ambiguating the state: motorcycle taxi drivers and policing in Kigali, Rwanda, Rollason, Will (Brunel University London, Uxbridge, United Kingdom)
  • Citizenship and the vote in Ghana-Togo borderlands: Between legal and local criteria of belonging, Robert-Nicoud (University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom)
  • Bureaucratic Anxiety and the Workshopping of Citizens: How a State Constitutes its Public, Bolt, Maxim (University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom)
  • Distinction, recognition and the authority-certification-citizenship nexus in Zimbabwe, Hammar, Amanda (Centre of African Studies, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark)

Panel 2: Legal Bureaucracies: Managing Materiality and Governing Space

Chair: Bolt, Maxim

  • The Powers of Dématérialisation: Bureaucratic Dynamics in Central African Regional Transport, Munoz, Jose-Maria (University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom)
  • Land, Law and the State: Citizens’ Encounters with Legal Bureaucracies in Eldoret, Kenya, Badoux, Miriam (Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland)
  • Unmaking Property: Demolition and Displacement in Luanda, Gastrow, Claudia (University of Johannesburg, Johannesburg, South Africa)
  • Encountering the State: The Socio-Material Making of State and Property in Mombowe, Rural Zambia, Karlsson, Linus (Department of Urban and Rural Development: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Johanneshov, Sweden)

Panel 3: Legal Bureaucracies: Negotiating Judicial Authority

Chair: Verheul, Sanne

  • (In) Formalising Process and Procedure: The Making of Recognition and Authority in Freetown’s Local Courts, Koroma, Simeon (University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom)
  • The new politics of judicial selection in Southern Africa, Brett, Peter (Queen Mary – University of London, London, United Kingdom | University of London Institute in Paris, Paris, France)
  • Performing state authority in court: judges, lawyers and litigants in family law hearings in Cotonou, Andreetta, Sophie (Research Fellow, Department of Law & Anthropology, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle/Saale, Germany | Collaboratrice Scientifique, Faculté des Sciences Sociales ULiège, Liège, Belgium)
  • From Apartheid Administrators to Lawyers of the People: A History of Accountability and Independece inside the South African Prosecution Authority (1948-2018), Mugler, Johanna (Institute for Social Anthropology, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland)

Panel 4: Legal Bureaucracies: Activism and Struggle

Chair: Johnson, Jessica

  • A summons to the Magistrates’ Courts in Uganda and South Africa, Macdonald, Anna (London School of Economics and Political Science, London, United Kingdom) and Cooper-Knock, Sarah-Jane (London School of Economics and Political Science, London, United Kingdom)”
  • The politics of Everyday Legal Activism in War-Torn South Sudan, Ibreck, Rachel (Goldsmiths, University of London, London, United Kingdom)
  • Trading Time: Shop Hours and Women Retail Workers’ Struggles Around Working Time in Johannesburg, South Africa, 1940s – 2017, Kenny, Bridget (University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa)
  • Cause Lawyering and Political Transition in Zimbabwe, 1980-1995, Karekwaivanane, George (University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom)

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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