Panel 7: Rural Governance

Rune Bennike, University of Copenhagen, (chair)

Abstract: Village Rules: Migration, Land Use Change, and Local Governance in the High Himalaya

In this paper, we explore the consequences of educational outmigration on land use and local governance in the Nepal Himalaya. Distant from the national center, Trok village continues to govern village affairs through an elaborate system of local government largely outside the purview of the Nepali state. The system ties together issues of land ownership, use and taxation with questions of belonging and a range of village rituals conducted within a vernacular form of Tibetan Buddhism. However, due to a sharp rise in educational outmigration, village labor has become scarce and the whole system is under pressure. In the face of this, villagers have chosen to rework the system in a way which maintains strong bonds to the village, even among members not currently residing there. Based on a 2010 and 2019 household register data, combined with ethnographic observations and interviews, the paper analyses the ongoing changes in land use and discusses the shifts introduced in local government.

Frauke Mennes, University of Copenhagen,

Abstract: ‘The Making of the Faction’

In this paper I explore how ‘factions’ are made in Rayalaseema, a region in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The region is infamous for its violent history of ‘factionism’, in which village-based groups as part of larger faction and political networks compete for state resources to a backdrop of increasing drought and inviable agricultural practices. Based on ten months of ethnographic fieldwork, in this paper I trace how factions come into being. How are factions founded and to what extent to these groups predate the conflicts they become so closely involved in? Most of the literature on violent bosses provides inadequate answers to these questions, preferring to focus on vertical networks in caste and class structures. However, my research shows that horizontal relations like kin and caste are crucial in making the faction, but that membership is not self-evident but needs to be negotiated. Being a caste or kin member puts one in a tense position of distant proximity. Thus, being related through caste or kin bonds provides a certain freedom in which one can turn down appeals to join. However, one can never be truly uninvolved; moral obligations of solidarity and support continue to exist. At the same time, many outside the caste and faction, in the village or among the police, will assume these bonds of support and solidarity, possibly endangering any caste peers or kin of the faction actors. I hypothesize these networks makes the reactivation of the faction always a possibility. Finally, I trace the demission of the faction through looking into concepts of selfhood in relation to these social networks of caste and kin.

Sarah Howard, Goldsmiths, University of London;

Abstract: Stable jobs, precarious lives: rural civil servants in Ethiopia

Rural state employees in Ethiopia are disgruntled. Despite their outstanding educational success (in a context where only a fifth of children who start school will complete Grade Eight), and their achievement of stable, formal work as teachers, health or agricultural workers (where un- or under- employment is rife), they see themselves as marginalised and struggling to get by. They complain of low salaries, poor conditions, diminishing societal respect and status, and pressure from above, below and sideways, via an all-encompassing evaluation scheme. Overtaking previous discourses about sacrifice and service to the nation, narratives about success and modernity push them away from the rural areas where they are unwillingly posted to bounce between villages in a quest to get closer to the urban, or to exit from government work for the 'struggle economy' of petty trade or the siren lure of illegal migration. Their inability to put down geographical roots and to forge or maintain stable and enduring kin and friendship ties makes them precarious, in Judith Butler's definition of precarity as a 'politically induced condition in which certain populations suffer from failing social economic networks of support more than others'. In this paper, I am proposing these low-level state workers to be at the frontier of governance, as occupying 'the limits of central power'. Among the 'ghosts' and 'whispers' of eviscerated African states, Ethiopia is anomalous: a security state with the proven ability to discipline private capital towards its own developmental ends, and with an expanding state apparatus. In my longterm ethnographic research in rural eastern Amhara Region, however, I found a disconnect between the coercive power of the state and the lived experience of the government workers, who embody the state yet are constrained by it; who exercise authority yet feel excluded from the means by which to realise their aspirations.  

Linus Karlsson, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences,

Abstract: State, chiefdom and the ‘non-sovereign’ spaces in between: struggles over land and the reinvention of legitimate authority in Munyama Forest, Zambia

The relation between state and chiefdom in southern Africa has been subject to ample research. This paper rejects normative conceptions of state-chiefdom boundaries as analytically stable or jurisdictionally given, and underlines their political, cultural and historical constructedness, porousness and variability. Through ethnographic field research in rural Zambia, this paper draws analytical attention to state-chiefdom boundaries as sites of non-sovereignty where political authority is renegotiated and reinvented. The paper probes these dynamics by analyzing a territorial conflict in one such site of betweenness, Munyama Forest in Lenje Chiefdom. During colonial rule Munyama was proclaimed a ‘Protected Forest Area’ and, as a result thereof, edited out from the domain of chiefly authority. The inhabitants were forcibly displaced onto a territorially fixed topography of tribal politics. Following national independence, Munyama was reoccupied by a peasant population governed by a group of village headmen loyal to Chief Liteta of Lenje Chiefdom, and thus brought into the chiefly fold anew. Over the past decade, state authorities have repeatedly tried to reappropriate the forest lands, issuing eviction letters, ordering the arrest of unruly forest cultivators and burning their fields and farmsteads. State incursion, however, has been met with violent resistance; convoys of government vehicles entering the forest have been stoned, and surveyors and bureaucrats working in the local district have been threatened and assaulted. Through an ethnography of this ambiguous space, this paper suggests that practices of government and forms of resistance do not simply take place at the boundaries between ‘state’ and ‘chiefdom’; rather, they are central to the making and unmaking of them. It is in these intersectional spaces that ‘state’, ‘chiefdom’ and ‘forest’ are imbued with meaning and brought into a politically contentious existence. By exploring the myriad of negotiations of state-chiefdom- forest boundaries, this paper seeks to understand some of the ways through which new spaces of authority, social closure, exclusion and control emerge in contemporary Zambia.

Ankita Shresta, University of Oslo;