Breaking Rocks is a volume of the Dislocations series published by Berghahn Books, a series closely associated with Focaal and FocaalBlog. The immense dislocations and suffering caused by neoliberal globalization the retreat of the welfare state in the last decades of the twentieth century, and the heightened military imperialism at the turn of the twenty-first century have raised urgent questions about the temporal and spatial dimensions of power. Through stimulating critical perspectives and new and cross-disciplinary frameworks, which reflect recent innovations in the social and human sciences, this series provides a forum for politically engaged, ethnographically informed, and theoretically incisive responses.
This post is part of the Modes of Production feature moderated and edited by Patrick Neveling and Joe Trapido.
From the sixteenth century onward, European trading networks grew ever more extensive. In some places, they displaced or directly subjugated the indigenous population early on. In others, merchants entered trading relationships with locals. In some parts of Asia, these traders interacted with forms of social organization that had affinities with Europe—dense populations with large merchant classes, and states that extracted tribute over large areas (Wolf 1997: 73–101). In other places, power and resources were distributed according to very different rules: in particular, wealth was more directly related to the person. This is not to say that these places lacked markets or currency; they often held large markets and had an amazing diversity of objects for mediating transactions, but these objects are better seen as an element of, or adjunct to, the value of the person. I am calling such societies human modes of production.1
The conference “Elections in central and southern Africa, dynamics of exclusion and participation,” at SOAS on 26 June 2015, prompts me to some personal reflections. Elections in central and southern Africa are marked by a paradoxical dynamic of participation and exclusion. Ostensible rituals of mass participation and of legitimation by civil power, electoral processes in the countries of the region have often made recourse to forms of exclusionary violence during campaigns. This is not, of course, unique—elections in Africa should not be seen as sui generis events. This exclusionary dynamic is well understood as a regional variant on a wider theme.