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Understanding Statehood through Architecture: a comparative study of Africa's state buildings


The project will develop a new ethnography of statehood through architecture. It goes beyond conventional approaches to statehood, which describe states as an objectively existing set of tools used to run a country, and critical approaches that understand them as discursive constructs. Instead, this research understands statehood as a result of the relationship between functions and symbols, and will read it through an innovative new methodology, namely a study of state architecture.

The study will focus on state buildings in Africa. African statehood, uncertain and often ambiguous, in many cases profoundly shaped by colonial heritages and post-colonial relationships, is reflected in classical-colonial, modernist-nationalist and post-modern or vernacular styles of architecture. African state buildings reveal the complex interplay of ideas, activities and relationships that together constitute an often uncomfortable statehood. They symbolise the state, embodying and projecting ideas of it through their aesthetics; they enable its concrete functions and processes; and they reveal what citizens think about the state in the ways they describe and negotiate them.

The study is comparative, multi-layered and interdisciplinary. It focuses on five countries (South Africa, DR Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire), exploring politics and statehood on domestic, regional and international levels, and drawing on theory and methods from political science, history, sociology, art and architecture theory. It employs innovative ethnographic methods, including the collection and display of photographs in interactive exhibitions staged in Africa to explore the ways citizens think about and use state buildings.

This project will provide an innovative reading of how African statehood is expressed and how it looks and feels to African citizens. In doing this, it will make a distinctive new contribution to understanding how statehood works everywhere.



Net EU contribution
€ 1 870 665,00
Thornhaugh street russel square
WC1H OXG London
United Kingdom

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London Inner London — West Camden and City of London
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (2)