Anthropology Lecture Series #4: Decolonizing the Study of the State: Max Weber, Colonialism and African Studies

by Aharon De Grassi

Register here:

24.05.2022 at 18:30 CET

Conceptualizing the state, corruption, and patronage is crucial to understanding and pursuing justice and liberation, so how are we to grapple with problematic aspects of these concepts’ genealogies involving colonial, racist, and sexist thought and practice? Especially important is the prominent comparative political sociologist Max Weber and his multiple familial high-level connections with the colonization of Africa (particularly colonization and trade in Cameroon and Namibia, and rubber concessions in the Congo), as well as contextual imperial influences from colonial fairs, magazines and German explorers. I next situate Weber’s claims and ideal-type categories related to politics and the state as themselves partial, connected, and part of contradictory imperial tendencies to simultaneously emphasize separate societies, categories and identities. Weber’s colonial connections and contexts relate in various ways to his own key arguments and his thousands of mentions of African issues across 40 years (based on the 47 volumes of Weber’s complete collected writings), notably on patrimonialism, infrastructure and territoriality in Roman North Africa, Egypt, Dahomey, Buganda and Cazembe. I also contribute to enabling alternative concepts and actions by de-naturalizing contemporary Weberian approaches with an account of the specific post-World War II personal and institutional academic networks through which Weberian approaches were institutionalized in African Studies, focusing on the key nodes of Berkeley, Chicago, London and Makerere. I conclude with some brief implications for research and advocacy.

Aharon deGrassi is a Lecturer of Geography at San José State University with 25 years of experience focused on the political economy of rural development in Africa. His current book project contributes to decolonial approaches – particularly regarding states and politics – by analyzing the relations between the colonization of Africa, the influential sociologist Max Weber, and subsequent institutionalizations of Weberian approaches in African Studies and International Development. This work builds on Dr deGrassi’s continued research on Angola’s political economy – an ethnographically based long-term and multi-method study of rural post-war reconstruction in the oil-rich country. That research also involves an historical manuscript on colonial cotton in the Kasanje area, political institutions, and the associated 1961 rural nationalist revolt. In addition, he is completing a book manuscript on the dialectical political ecology of the Guinean and Cape Verdean agronomist and liberation movement leader Amílcar Cabral, including Cabral’s work in rural Angola. Dr deGrassi has also worked with a range of international organizations and research institutes in the US, Europe and Africa. His interests include critical agrarian studies, political ecology, decolonial theory and practice, , ethnography, advocacy, intellectual history, the Green Revolution, patronage and corruption, infrastructure, democratic decentralization, institutional change, feminist theory and methodology, historical GIS, critical and relational geography, political geography, Angola, Burkina Faso, Ghana, and DR Congo. More information is available here.

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