Accepted Paper:

Some kind of power: Malawian discourses on political cosmology  


Arne Steinforth (York University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper illustrates local resistance against (post-)colonial authority over African political systems, secularized modernity, and the rationalities of market capitalism. It introduces the concept of political cosmology as a tool for analyzing non-secular ideas of legitimacy.

Paper long abstract:

How do post-colonial societies re-negotiate globalized narratives of the authority of expert knowledge and its legitimization in specific settings? This paper aims at illustrating complex - and often uncomfortable - local discourses concerning resistance against (post-)colonial authority over African political systems, the end of secularized modernity, and challenges against the rationalities of market capitalism. Drawing on research data from Malawi, the case material provided will outline grassroots processes that redefine contemporary Malawian society according to explicitly non-modernist ideas about sociopolitical authority and its legitimacy. In the long aftermath following the end of the secularization hypothesis associated with a globally universalized modernity, the functional differentiation between the political and the religious (or other) spheres in society appears increasingly artificial and ideological in character. In response to this assessment, the present paper offers the concept of political cosmology in order to address the deep interrelatedness between these two allegedly distinct social realms. It therefore aims at complementing the somewhat essentializing focus on political economies that pre-defines economic considerations as the heart of political institutions and processes across global settings. In a post-rational environment of resurging religious nationalism, anti-globalization movements, and a 'post-factual' society, factors of ideology, cosmology, and (civil) religion need to be reconceptualised as crucial forces within the political sphere - on local, national, and transnational levels.

Panel RM-SPK01
By whose authority: investigating alternative modes of power and the legitimization of expertise