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Accepted Paper:

Studying Brokers of the State ‘from Below’. Barristers, Neoliberal Reforms, and Images of the Beninese State  
Sophie Andreetta (University of Liège)

Paper short abstract:

Building on ethnographic research, this paper explores how lawyers can act as brokers of the state at the local level: first, by questioning or furthering policies while arguing cases that involve public institutions; second, by shaping their clients’ representations and expectations of the state.

Paper long abstract:

Over the last few years, the anthropology of development has moved from the study of projects to the implementation of public policies, exploring the various practices and logics involved in making the (African) state. We studied the elaboration of reforms and insisted on public servants’ discretion in implementing them. The place of law and legal strategies in designing, enforcing, or questioning these reforms, however, remained relatively under-explored. This paper aims to fill such a gap by analyzing how the daily practices of lawyers at the Beninese bar contribute to making ‘the state’. It furthers the idea that lawyers can act as brokers of the state – not only at the global level, but also in their daily practices such as advising clients and arguing cases at the national level. In the last few years, new policies have been adopted at an unprecedented pace, increasingly involving criminal courts in matters such as taxes, corruption, or free speech. This presentation builds on ethnographic fieldwork amongst lawyers to examine whether, and how they can further or question these reforms. It then asks how litigants’ images of the state, feelings of trust, and impressions of due process are constructed in their interactions with lawyers, and seeing them argue in court. In a context where both national and international observers worry about the future of democracy and the rule of law in Benin, both the place of lawyers as a contesting force, and citizens’ images and expectations of the state, are important questions.

Panel Anth36
African futures and the new boundaries of the anthropology of development and social change
  Session 1 Wednesday 31 May, 2023, -