DS0802 - Inégalités, discriminations, intégration

The Social and Political Life of Identity documents in Africa – PIAF

Submission summary

This study will focus on the government of identification documents in sub-Saharan Africa from post-war moments to the current era. Many of the crises in contemporary Africa are intimately connected to legal and political tensions over identity, citizenship and belonging. Yet, identification documents on the continent have hardly been central to the scholarship on these crises. The study will explore these political crises primarily through the prism of official identification documents such as birth certificates, national identity-cards, voters’ cards, residence permits, party-membership cards as well as on other forms of official idenification such as land certificates and drivers’ licenses. A main goal of this study is to critically examine the relationship between these disparate regimes of administrative identification and political violence. However, our study is far from being solely relevant to conflict situations. Rather, our comparative study will also examine the importance of IDs for the negotiation of everyday relations among citizens in the public sphere.
The study is theoretically situated within a renewed interest in the literature on administrative identification documents in Europe. However, it seeks to go beyond a state-centric perspective by approaching the mutiple registers of identification as technologies of power and instruments for political centralization, on the one hand, and as material infrastructures for the emergence and circulation of new moral and political subjectivities, on the other. The expected outcome is therefore to generate innovative insights that are empirically embedded in the diffusion of bureaucratic rationality of both the formal and informal trappings as well as on practices of citizenship. This two-fold hypothesis therefore translates into two different, yet inter-related areas of research. Firstly, in the middle-term, the study will analyze how the « encardment » of individual citizens to revisit the question of state formation and citizenship in Africa. Three historical sequences are of particular interest in this regard: late colonialism; the one-party states; and lastly, the « third-wave » of democratization and its citizenship crises.
The second area of research in the study aims to analyze the social life of identification documents « from below ». Recognizing the pluralization/privatization of the identification infrastructure, the study aims to explore the diversity of arenas for the manufacturing of IDs as well as the complex relations that individuals weave with these documents and its associated institutions. The field studies will aim to empirically document the modalities of such pluralization and its diffusion in the social fabric, in order to test the hypothesis that there is an ongoing popular appropriation of bureaucratic imaginaries and practices. Lastly, the project aims at analyzing the material culture of administrative identification documents to highlight the practical negotiations that occur around the making of such administrative documents as well as their everday use, including in relation to state authorities.
This research programme is a collaborative comparative study on a continental scale, with case studies on ten countries in both francophone and anglophone sub-Saharan Africa: South Africa, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda and Sénégal. The projet is supported by two institutional partners in France that are complementary both in terms of disciplines and experiences (the Centre for International Studies (CERI) at Sciences Po Paris and the Institut des Mondes Africains (IMAf)). It also has scholarly collaborations from academics at other African universities (such as the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg) in addition to the fifteen researchers in history, political sciences and anthropology that specialize on questions of citizenship in their respective fieldsites.

Project coordinator


The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


IMAF (CNRS DR O/N) Institut des mondes africains
IMAF Institut des mondes africains

Help of the ANR 338,137 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2015 - 36 Months

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