Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
University of Wisconsin / Madison
From the Kraals to the Markets: A Pastoral World Beyond the State in East Africa, 1850-2020

This project examines the political history of the Ngitunga peoples, a group of linguistically and culturally related pastoral communities inhabiting the borderlands of Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and South Sudan, between 1850 and the present. Despite their significant political and economic influence on East African history, scholars have viewed the Ngitunga peoples through the lens of their apparent marginality in relation to the state. My project shifts the perspective from which we view seemingly marginal communities by recasting the state as one of several intertwined factors that have influenced their historical trajectories. This shift in perspective will both afford novel insights into the history of Ngitunga communities and provide a model for the ways in which scholars might reimagine the histories of communities regarded as marginal based solely on their relationship vis-à-vis the state. Throughout the colonial period and up to the present, Ngitunga peoples have managed to live on their own terms, maintaining the viability of longstanding cultural, political and economic institutions through strategic interaction with both state and non-state structures. Through oral history, ethnography and archival research in Uganda and Kenya, I will investigate the shifting cultural, political and economic logics that have informed the Ngitunga political sphere over the past two centuries, and the ways in which Ngitunga communities have altered these logics to suit changing circumstances. Such an examination will reveal a transnational political world as yet unexplored by scholars, one that incorporates the structures of several states but does not hinge on any one state in particular. The Ngitunga political sphere thus represents an alternative image of the postcolonial world that is not simply a galaxy of irrelevant peripheries orbiting the star of the state, but a patchwork of political epistemes, in which the state is simply one possibility whose centrality and dominance cannot be assumed.