Peter Geschiere, The Perils of Belonging

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Why did I get this book?

1. Really like Geschiere’s other work.
2. Helps for thinking about sovereignty and the legacies of indirect rule/decentralization in my current writing.
3. Good model for comparative analysis of Africa and Europe.
4. Thought it might be good to teach.
5. Timely on migration–even more since written.
6. Helps potentially with a critique of romantic conceptualizations of indigenous rights.

Is it what I thought it was?

Yes: great for unpacking indigeneity and authocthony, and their relationship to current structures of globalization, citizenship and migration.

No: way harder to teach to undergraduates than I thought. (Used it in Honors seminar, a real struggle). Very erudite, densely referential. Would be a great book for a graduate seminar in multiple respects, and not just in African Studies.

What continuing uses might I have for it?

1. Should use “Decentralization and Belonging” for Free Agency 6.
2. Treatment of the idea of the “stranger” is useful for lectures in West African history. Chapter Four.
3. Epilogue would be useful in some contexts of discussion of migration, citizenship, etc. in comparative or Africanist conversations.
4. Bibliography is good on Africanist theories of the state up to 2008 or so.


“So the soil does not speak for itself. This is why it is important to historicize notions like autochthony with their naturalizing implications. The ‘global conjucture of belonging’ brought a return of highly localized preoccupations, as the flip side of intensifying processes of globalization.” p. 223

Asides, loose thoughts, unfair complaints

I’m not sure where this leaves us. E.g., I think anthropologists and historians in 2008 already knew that indigeneity was mostly empirically untrue and often ethically dubious. Geschiere helps a bit with laying out the specific cultural and political histories that have given it power, but if anything since 2008 the authority of invocations of indigeneity and authenticity have accelerated, especially in progressive discourses in social media. God help the incautious intellectual who steps naively into some of those conversations to tell people that their sense of authentic experience of locality and belonging is a construction that has potentially “predatory” effects that are invisibly tied to the destructive impact of globalization. There are ways in which the very worked-out political and analytic terrain of the 1990s and 2000s that this book arises out of have very quickly been shoved aside by the very phenomena that Geschiere is analyzing.

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