Norms in the Margins and Margins of the Norm

The Social Construction of Illegality


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Abstracts Panel 6

Panel organizer: Mathieu Hilgers (Free University Brussels, Belgium) & Benjamin Rubbers (University of Liege, Belgium)

The Neoliberal Effect: Normalization, Exclusion and Resistance

Although Africa is often neglected in the literature about neoliberal globalization, it has been an important laboratory for the implementation of neoliberal policies under the patronage of Bretton woods institutions. In the 1980s most African states have been submitted to structural adjustments aiming at cutting their expenses in education and health, at privatizing their public assets, and at liberalizing their economy. Following the failure of this development strategy, they were further pushed, from the 1990s, to make new institutional reforms promoting decentralization, good governance, and an attractive environment for business.
A large number of authors have emphasized the neoliberal rationale underlying this agenda, and associated it with dynamics such as the criminalization of the state, the formation of economic enclaves, the resurgence of autochtony, or the apparition of a civil society. On the basis of empirical research and case studies this panel aims to analyze the logics of normalization (legalization and illegalization), exclusion and resistance which neoliberal reforms would imply.
More broadly the objective of this panel is to offer empirical data and theoretical insight in order to question the nature of the neoliberal effect on the African continent: Does the observation of a neoliberal impact involve that African continent is neoliberal? What does it mean to be neoliberal? Can we talk about neoliberalism if one observes that Africa is at the heart of logics differing from other continents? Is there a neoliberal governmentality in Africa? Is there a specificity of neoliberalism in Africa? How far political actors and civil servants actually implement neoliberal policies imposed from above? Should we reduce neoliberalism to the implementation of such policies? How discourses about the virtues of good governance, competition, and entrepreneurship are produced, understood and appropriated in Africa? Are they to be associated with new forms of subjectivity? To what types of inequality and exclusion neoliberal policies lead in this context? And to what forms of resistance are they confronted? In other words this panel aims to clarify the relation between neoliberalism and Africa.


  • Géraldine André (Fonds National de Recherche Scientifique – University of Liege, Belgium) & Marie Godin (Free University Brussels, Belgium)
    Childhood and Work at the Neoliberal Age: Ethnography of Child Work in Artisanal and Small-scale Mining in the Katanga province (DRC)

    This paper aims at analyzing the work activities carried out by children in artisanal and small-scale mining in Katanga, DRC, in the wake of the evolution of representations of work, masculinity, family and childhood since the reforms of the Congolese mining sector promoted by the institutions of Bretton Woods. Katanga has been the industrial flagship of the Belgian Congo organized around the mining town of Lubumbashi during the colonial period and also after the independence of the country. The “union minière du Haut-Katanga” created by Belgians and nationalized after with the name of “Gécamines” has had a decisive impact on the structuration of the collective imagination on work, masculinity, family and childhood in this area of the country, which contains an infinite geologic potential and, as such, is strongly connected to global flows of raw materials exploitation. What is the impact of the reforms of the mining sector encouraged by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund according to the ideals of schooling, nuclear family and father as the main breadwinner, the ones that have been promoted by the Gecamines during several decades? More specifically, what are the effects of these measures on socialization processes of youth and what are the consequences of those transformations on intergenerational dynamics? These questions that deal with the evolution of representations of childhood, work and family will be the main focus of our paper, which presents the results of a collective socio-anthropological research about child work in artisanal and small scale-mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo (Katanga province).
  • An Ansoms (Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium)
    The Bitter Fruit of a New Agrarian Model: Large-scale Land Deals and Local Livelihoods in Rwanda

    In a context of globalization and liberalization, Africa is increasingly confronted with the commercialization of its space. Various large-scale actors, including international private investors, investor states and local entrepreneurs, are constantly seeking to expand their land holdings for the production of food crops or biofuels. This paper presents two Rwandan case studies, and analyzes how large-scaled land acquisition by foreign and local elite players impacts on local livelihoods. On this basis, it identifies broader agrarian and social changes taking place in Rwanda and Africa. By way of conclusion, it provides clues as to how the tables might be turned in order to protect local livelihoods in the further evolution of Rwanda’s agriculture.
  • Mathieu Hilgers (Free University Brussels, Belgium)
    Urban Governance and Neoliberalism in Africa

    In the course of the last decades, international institutions supported and fostered reforms in the field of urban governance in Africa. This paper aims at analyzing these reforms and their impacts through a synthesis of recent research on urban governance and neoliberalism in Africa. First, the general intentions of these reforms will be presented; secondly, this paper will study the implementation and the consequences of these reforms in different contexts (mainly in Burkina Faso and Ghana); third the presentation will highlight some features of neoliberalism’s variegation in urban Africa.
  • Benjamin Rubbers (University of Liege, Belgium)
    African Reactions to Neoliberalism. The Reform of the Mining Sector in Katanga (D.R. Congo)

    Once the most important mining enterprise of Congo-Zaïre, Gécamines – since 1967 a state-owned company – went into a steep decline in the 1990s. To address the situation, the World Bank advocated, in the early 2000s, the sale of company assets to foreign private investors, and staff reductions to improve its competitiveness. It is against this background that ‘voluntary’ redundancy was offered, in 2003-2004, to 10,000 Gécamines employees with more than 25 years service. In return for accepting the termination of their contract of employment 'by mutual agreement', all those who took redundancy would receive a lump sum and benefit from an economic reintegration programme. According to the World Bank, it was entirely possible for ex-Gécamines staff to free themselves from a wage dependency sustained by a century of paternalism. They could now be self-reliant, and perhaps even start up small businesses.

    Based on research carried out in Katanga between 2006 and 2011, this paper aims at analysing the implementation and consequences of this neoliberal reform. It will first examine how this reform has been hijacked by the political elite, and resulted in a bout of asset-stripping to the benefit of multinationals. Then it will discuss the protest movement which arose out the redundancy programme to denounce its terms and demand more adequate compensation for the workers involved. The paternalistic moral economy underlying its demands can be analyzed as a form of resistance to the neoliberal agenda of the World Bank. The final section of the paper will eventually study the career of ex-Gécamines workers since their redundancy to offer a critique of the neoliberal assumptions which inspired the economic reintegration programme, and to analyse the new forms of social identification that emerged in the former Gécamines worker camps since 2003-2004.

Discussant: Béatrice Hibou (Centre for International Studies and Research, Paris, France)



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