The panel examines how state ideas and the belief in the force of law are instantiated, contested and adapted in the everyday operation of bureaucracies in Africa. The aim is to get a better understanding of the contradictions and continuities between practices, practical norms and the law in books.
Across Africa, state agents' practices are often at odds with the lofty ideals of the state and the rule of law. The empirical study of state bureaucracies in Africa has revealed a wide array of practical norms co-existing with official rules and statutes. These practical norms are intertwined with official rules, sometimes contradicting them and justifying corrupt behaviour but often ensuring the smooth operation of government as they bridge the gap between abstract rules and realities on the ground. This panel will seek to explore the complex dialectics between bureaucratic practices and practical norms on the one hand and the official rules and state ideas promising progress, justice and security on the other hand. The importance of practical norms and the routinized transgression of official rules are in stark contrast to the excessive bureaucratic formalism and fetishization of law also characterizing the exercise of state authority in Africa. A central element of the latter are the ideas of the state invoked to legitimize or challenge the practices of government officials and state representatives. These ideas have been subject to a range of influences including the colonial administration, developmental thinking and the neoliberal paradigm. The panel invites contributions that examine how state ideas and the belief in the force of law are instantiated, contested and adapted in the everyday operation of bureaucracies across Africa. The objective is to get a better and empirically grounded understanding of the contradictions and continuities between practices, practical norms and the law in books.