Mutual dependencies and normative production in Africa


The question of how modern colonial powers came to dominate so many territories, in many cases with so few material resources, was addressed from multiple viewpoints by imperial and colonial historiographies. This scholarship tends to use the concept of indirect rule as a main interpretative key to explaining the maintenance of the colonial possessions established by the so-called “effective occupation” of African territories determined by the Berlin conference of 1884-1885. According to this perspective, the appointment of local intermediaries became progressively controlled by colonial rulers under the rationale that the alliance with individuals who had some legitimacy founded in pre-occupation power structures would facilitate local governance. The performance of these local mediators and intermediaries is usually framed as a dichotomy between collaboration and resistance: either they agreed to collaborate with colonial agents and became instruments of the colonial apparatus, or they resisted colonists' onslaughts, generating a more or less long cycle of violence and coerced domination.

This Junior Research Group assumes that dependency relations established in such a context, although strongly asymmetrical, were in many ways mutual. By focusing on the legal dimension of the interactions between colonial agents, local intermediaries, and indigenous peoples, the group asks how relations of mutual dependency were constituted and how they produced normativities at a global level. The main goal is to demonstrate that the interaction, recognition, and even creation of local intermediaries by colonial agents implies mutual transformations of traditional and state authorities. In this sense, the researchers involved in the group bring the perspectives of global legal history and of strong asymmetrical dependencies in human societies to the current debate that challenges the dichotomy between cooperation and resistance of native agents, arguing that, besides contributing to the construction of hybrid models of colonial rule, the actions of these individuals also shaped the regulation of native labor exploitation and the mechanisms of punishment and social control of local populations.

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