Summerschool: Governance at the ‘edge’ of the state: Materiality

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Summerschool: Governance at the ‘edge’ of the state: Materiality

11-14 September 2018

The Conflict Research Group at Ghent University, together with the Department of Geography at the University of Zürich, the Department of Food and Resource Economics at the University of Copenhagen, and the Department of Urban and Rural Development, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences organizes a four-day PhD course at Ghent University on 11 - 14 September 2018 with the title Governance at the ‘edge’ of the state? Resources - Materiality - Governance.

This course is the fifth in a series of summer schools that explore multiple forms of governance at the edge of the state. This year’s edition will specifically focus on materiality as an entry point into discussions of resource politics and governance. The central starting point of the summer school series is that in many areas in the world, state power is challenged such that governance is achieved by multiple, sometimes overlapping authorities. Rather than starting from normative ideal-type depictions of how states should function, getting traction on these dynamics demands an empirically grounded analysis of social relations and power structures, which attempt to shape and organize public authority, for instance in contexts of violence. This research tries to identify how a wide variety of institutions which cannot be solely attributed to the state, operate and perform in these areas.

A particular arena where these daily negotiations and contestations can be discerned is around resources. Resources are at the same time a material good, central to everyday livelihoods, but can also be approached as a relational and social concept, more specifically in order to understand how particular claims are enforced towards other people. Resources (including land, minerals, water, forest, plantations etc) understood in this sense allows grappling with the mechanism in which people both access resources and how claims to resources are produced, enforced and disputed within daily social encounters.

The study of materiality has the potential to enrich our understanding of such processes and will provide the central theme of this year’s summer school. With “materiality” we refer broadly speaking to the different social science approaches who have taken the study of non-human entities (objects, things, animals, plants, etc.) seriously in their effort to make sense of society by focusing on their relational qualities that push us to problematize simple subject - object distinctions. Such broad definition allows us to engage with different schools of thought that engage with materiality from various ontological starting points. Prominent examples include historical materialism, actor-network theory, assemblage theory, and material culture. In this summer school we specifically want to connect these discussions to the study of resource politics and governance to better understand how e.g. the material qualities of resources shape not only extractive processes, but can also mediate politics and conflict or how the materiality of governance—including e.g. bureaucracy or rebel governance— can mediate relations between ruler and ruled.

This course responds to a growing demand from graduate students and early career researchers who are developing their thesis within this new field of research. It aims to bring together PhD from the social sciences and humanities with some of the key scholars propagating these debates. Combining the methodological and conceptual expertise of four excellent research groups with key input from a number of invited faculty, it aims at better understanding the complex relations between materiality, resources and governance. Through a series of lectures, panel discussions as well as an in-depth mentoring of student’s research papers, the course provides a key opportunity not only for students to present and discuss their work with senior researchers, but also to further the debate in this emerging field.

Specifically, the learning objectives of the course are:

  • Students have an increased awareness about the interconnectedness of materiality and governance and/or resources politics
  • Students have engaged in discussions on methodological and conceptual approaches as well as on innovative theoretical and comparative case study work in their research field
  • Students are able to critically assess their own and others’ work in this research field and deliver constructive criticism to their peers

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