Agency and factionalism in conflict and crisis in Africa 
Lidewyde Berckmoes (African Studies Centre Leiden)
Anna Hedlund (Lund University)
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Sverker Finnstrom (Uppsala University)
Wednesday 11 July, 11:30-13:15 (UTC+0)

Short Abstract:

In the panel we question the dichotomy of agency/choice and structure/ victimization in investigating (youth) followers of rivalry factions in crisis situations in Africa. Welcome are studies that explore the ways people make sense of manipulating forces and personal choices.

Long Abstract

Attempts to explain conflict or inform peace-building in Africa stress the importance of African elite's abilities to incite animosity amongst the masses. Elites are blamed for 'manipulating' ethnic or political identities in their pursuit of power. The accordingly produced rivalry factions are often described in terms of clear and fixed ideologies/identities.

Paradoxically, studies that explore perceptions/motivations of (youth) followers reveal a more nuanced and flexible attitude towards identity or ideology-based groups. Motives of followers appear to be multifaceted, and include some degree of choice and motivation (I.e. economic, political, security, protection, ideological visions, dreams etc). Furthermore, a follower's loyalty can wax and wane over the course of the struggle. For instance, in the eastern DRC rebel fighters often switch from one group to another, groups that are formed and dissolved regularly also. Yet at the same time, the positioning might critically affect the individual's life then and there, and determine his and the community's future.

In this panel (part of PACSA) we welcome empirically-based studies that explore the ways in which people make sense of, apprehend, and talk about 'manipulating' forces and personal choices in situations of enduring crisis. We question the dichotomy of 'agency/choice' and 'structure/victimization.' How do people chose or are pressured into (not) joining rivalry factions? How do people balance their momentary critical positioning with their own and their surroundings' long-term expectations or goals? And what does this tell us about the role and importance of ideologies and identities?

Accepted papers: