Understanding the complexities of national identity and state formation in Africa

4 February 2021
National Identity and State Formation in Africa. Edited by Manuel Castells & Bernard Lategan. Polity Press, January 2021. ISBN 9781509545612.


This book, published by Polity Press, is the outcome of a three-year research project (2017–2019), initiated by STIAS under the leadership of Manuel Castells (Permanent Visiting Fellow) and Bernard Lategan (Founding Director).

This ground-breaking collection examines how the interplay between globalisation and the assertion of local identities is reshaping the political landscape of Africa.

The research project on which the book is based yielded some unexpected insights. One is how local forms of identity have co-opted the tools of the ‘enemy’ to promote their own interests. While defending their values against external forces, people simultaneously – and paradoxically – use the interconnectivity of global networks to maximise their interests. Focusing on the relation between national identity and state formation, the authors explore the far-reaching consequences of these contradictory dynamics.

Although Africa shares many common trends with other parts of the world, it also has distinctive features. A region characterised by the increased mobility of people, goods and ideas challenges conventional assumptions of statecraft and also highlights the advantages of federalism – not merely as a constitutional option, but as a pragmatic device for managing diversity and holding fragile states together. This book explores emerging types of state formation in the same political space, as exemplified by the combination of elements of a kingdom, an independent state and a national power base in the province of KwaZulu-Natal and the careful crafting of an alternative state within a state by the Solidarity Movement in South Africa.

“The book highlights the need to rethink basic concepts and to re-examine conventional assumptions when considering the current dynamics which drive national identity and shape state formation – in Africa, but also in other regions of the world,” said Lategan. “This pertains to our understanding of notions like mobility, borders and states, but particularly of identity itself.  Any simplistic concept of identity, based on a binary matrix and resulting from a strategy of exclusion and protection is no longer adequate to deal with the complexities of a globalised world. The challenge is to embrace the relational and layered nature of identity and to develop enriched, multiple understandings of the self which will recognise the power of distinctiveness but simultaneously reinforce interconnectedness.”

About the contributors

Prof. Carlson Anyangwe, Adjunct Professor of International and Human Rights Law, Nelson Mandela School of Law, University of Fort Hare
Prof. Manuel Castells, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Wallis Annenberg Chair, University of Southern California
Mary de Haas, Honorary Research Associate, School of Law, University of KwaZulu-Natal
Prof. Albert Grundlingh, Emeritus Professor, Department of History, Stellenbosch University
Marizanne Grundlingh, Lecturer, Varsity College, Cape Town
Prof. Bernard Lategan, Founding Director, STIAS and Emeritus Professor, Stellenbosch University
Prof. Francis B. Nyamnjoh, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cape Town
Prof. Eghosa E. Osaghae, Tenured Professor of Comparative Politics, University of Ibadan, Nigeria
Dr Jabulani Sithole, Director, Mzala Mxumalo Centre, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa
Dr Danelle van Zyl-Herman, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Basel and Research Fellow, University of the Free State
Prof. Samson S. Wassara, Director, Institute of Peace, Development and Security Studies, University of Juba, South Sudan
Prof. Bahru Zewde, Emeritus Professor of History, Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia

Polity is offering a 20% discount until 31 March 2021.
To order your paperback copy, go to
www.politybooks.com and use code 21NAT at checkout.




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