This panel explores African politics through a process-oriented focus on disruptive events. The key concern is to understand how single disruptive events can trigger unanticipated changes in political systems and how they crystallize around the event.
African politics has long been conceptualized in terms of how it differs from politics in the Northern hemisphere, with numerous scholars seeking to define the nature of 'the African state' or trying to explain the specificity of 'African' political orders and mechanisms (e.g., Bates 1983; Bayart 1989; Chabal 2009; Chabal and Daloz 1999; Hyden 2006; Englebert 2009). The present panel seeks to understand African politics in less particularistic terms. Its focus is on disruptive events and their consequences, i.e. on how emergencies challenge any given political order, how political actors react to them and realign themselves, and how new discourses and constellations emerge that had often been unimaginable before the event (see Abbott 2016; Baber and McMaster 2016; Sewell 2005; Simondon 1989; Vollmer 2013). The Arab Spring is perhaps the most prominent example of such emergenc(i)es. Starting from a single disruptive event—Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation in central Tunisia in late 2010—it unexpectedly induced momentous political consequences across national and continental boundaries. But aside from such large-scale cases, micro-political instances and everyday examples abound in African politics (Simone 2008). In this panel, we seek to explore these emergenc(i)es, large or small, past or contemporary, as instances where disruption is connected and spreads across spaces. Seeking multiple disciplinary and methodological vantage points, the panel is open to both contemporary and historical case studies, comparisons, literary and anthropological approaches, as well as social media analyses of how disruptive events go viral.