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Violent Becomings: State Formation, Sociality, and Power in Mozambique

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Volume 4

Ethnography, Theory, Experiment

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Violent Becomings

State Formation, Sociality, and Power in Mozambique

Bjørn Enge Bertelsen

Full Text Made available under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license with support from the University of Bergen.

360 pages, 4 tables, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78533-236-4 $110.00/£78.00 Hb Published (August 2016)

ISBN  978-1-78533-293-7 $29.95/£21.00 Pb Published (August 2016)

Hb Pb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


“…a theoretically grounded work that shows excellent use of ethnographic material to untangle and complicate the violent nature of the continuous process of state making and how this is contested at various historical moments and within different domains in Southern Africa… Not only is this work a critique of the scholarship that sees the state as a static and dominant entity, but by focusing on state formation as an unfolding violent process, what he calls “violent becomings,” Bertelsen also allows readers to view the state from the perspective of its non-elite subjects. He does an excellent job in delineating the trajectories of violence central to state making in Mozambique.” • African Studies Quarterly

”This book accomplishes something rarely seen in today’s focus on ethnography of the particular—a holistic ethnography that synthesizes everything from urban lynch mobs to rural trails haunted by spirits of civil war violence to gendered domestic flow of life substances and the occult cannibalism of such substances for self-gain, scaling up to the power of sovereignty itself as master sorcerer, ultimately depicting a complex pattern of assemblages and social trajectories that transforms our understanding of the relationship between a state and its subjects.” • Journal of Anthropological Research

“Bertelsen’s work is cogently argued and represents an important contribution to scholarship about the colonial and postcolonial state in Africa. By emphasizing the dynamic and permanent process of state formation in Mozambique, the author proves how this process carries wider import by ‘prefiguring future global developments of statehood, society, and capitalism’ in other contexts. Therefore, this ethnography will also be of great interest to scholars interested in studies of colonialism and postcolonialism, and the state.” • Anthropological Quarterly

“…a rich, ethnographically grounded study of contested state formation processes in an interconnected rural-urban setting of central Mozambique. With its particular focus on violence and the dynamics of ‘the traditional’, it is undeniably a very important contribution to the anthropology of the postcolonial state…a book that is empirically rich and theoretically strong. Reading this book is highly recommended for anyone interested in state formation, violence, and power.” • Journal of African History

“This is a valuable contribution to the literatures on African political history at both the macro and micro scales… It represents what many Africanist anthropologists today hope to achieve – a monograph that is both ethnographically rich and theoretically engaged.” • Danny Hoffman, University of Washington

Violent Becomings carries us into the fascinating interfaces between Mozambican sovereignty, power, economy and culture, in ways that will have implications for many other accounts of postcolonial statehood.” • James D. Sidaway, National University of Singapore


Violent Becomings conceptualizes the Mozambican state not as the bureaucratically ordered polity of the nation-state, but as a continuously emergent and violently challenged mode of ordering. In doing so, this book addresses the question of why colonial and postcolonial state formation has involved violent articulations with so-called ‘traditional’ forms of sociality. The scope and dynamic nature of such violent becomings is explored through an array of contexts that include colonial regimes of forced labor and pacification, liberation war struggles and civil war, the social engineering of the post-independence state, and the popular appropriation of sovereign violence in riots and lynchings.

Bjørn Enge Bertelsen is Associate Professor at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Bergen and has undertaken anthropological research in Mozambique since 1998.

Subject: General Anthropology Peace & Conflict Studies Colonialism
Area: Africa

Violent Becomings by Bjørn Enge Bertelsen is available open access under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) with support from the University of Bergen.

Full Text

OA ISBN: 978-1-78533-429-0


List of Illustrations, Figures, and Maps
Note on Anonymity and Fieldwork
A Note on Language
List of Abbreviations and Acronyms
List of Key Historical and Contemporary Persons


Chapter 1. Violence. War, State, and Anthropology in Mozambique
Chapter 2.
Territory. Spatio-Historical Approaches to State Formation
Chapter 3.
Spirit. Chiefly Authority, Soil, and Medium
Chapter 4.
Body. Illness, Memory, and the Dynamics of Healing
Chapter 5.
Sovereignty. The Mozambican President and the Ordering of Sorcery
Chapter 6.
Economy. Substance, Production, and Accumulation
Chapter 7.
Law. Political Authority and Multiple Sovereignties

Conclusion: Uncapturability, Dynamics, and Power


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