Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Political Science, Boston College

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2013
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Government, Cornell University
Building the State Plot by Plot: The Role of Customary Authority in Consolidating State Power

As global and domestic demand for agricultural land rises across Africa, so do the stakes of the struggle for control of land between states and customary authorities (CAs). While chiefs, kings, Islamic marabouts, and other customary authorities maintain a great deal of power over the allocation of rural land, the rapid increase in large-scale land deals is shifting control over land from customary authority to the state. In response to increased interest in customary land, some CAs comply with state requests for land while others challenge the state and claim the right to control community resources. My project seeks to explain the variation in the resistance and consent of CAs when states attempt to consolidate their authority over land. This research explores the agency of CAs in building the state through a study of three forms of customary authority, in Western Senegal, Eastern Senegal, and Central Zambia. I focus on the internal accountability mechanisms that constrain some CAs from acting independently of their constituencies and hypothesize that given the same state incentives, CAs with internal institutional constraints will be more likely to resist ceding land to the state. Within each of the three sites, I will develop a spatial dataset and analyze patterns in the spatial relationship between recent land developments, the location of CAs, and key characteristics of the CAs. Next, I hone in on the role of internal institutional constraints through comparison of one pair per site of most-similar cases of CAs that responded differently to state attempts to convert large tracts of customary land. By implementing paired case comparisons and spatial analysis in three regions of two different African countries, I will test my hypotheses and identify patterns of resistance and compliance to the state-building process across varied configurations of state and customary authority.