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Fuzzy Sovereignty: Rural Reconstruction in Afghanistan, between Democracy Promotion and Power Games

  • Alessandro Monsutti (a1)

This paper contributes to the study of new forms of transnational power constituted by the action of international and nongovernmental organizations, to which gravitate loose networks of activists variously promoting democracy, human rights, the empowerment of women, and environmental conservation. The paper's focus is impacts that the massive reconstruction effort is having on Afghan society, examined through a case study of The National Solidarity Programme (NSP), the main project of rural rehabilitation underway in the country. Launched in 2003, its objective is to bring development funds directly to rural people and to establish democratically elected local councils that will identify needs, and plan and manage the reconstruction. Although the NSP's political significance faded in the context of the presidential elections of 2009, which were characterized by quickly evolving alliances, the program illustrates how reconstruction funds are an integral part of Afghanistan's social and political landscape. My arguments are four-fold: First, the NSP subtly modifies participants' body gestures and codes of conduct. Second, the program's fundamental assumptions are at odds with the complex social fabric and the overlapping sources of solidarity and conflict that characterize rural Afghanistan. Third, the ways in which political actors use material and symbolic resources channeled through the NSP mirror national struggles for power. Finally, such programs are one element in a much larger conceptual and bureaucratic apparatus that promotes new forms of transnational governmentality that coexist with and sometimes challenge the more familiar, territorialized expressions of state power and sovereignty.

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James Ferguson and Akhil Gupta . 2002. Spatializing States: Towards an Ethnography of Neoliberal Governmentality. American Ethnologist 29, 4: 9811002.

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Tania Murray Li . 2007. The Will to Improve: Governmentality, Development, and the Practice of Politics. Durham: Duke University Press.

Alessandro Monsutti . 2004. Cooperation, Remittances, and Kinship among the Hazaras. Iranian Studies 37, 2: 219–40.

Alessandro Monsutti . 2009. Itinérances transnationales: Un éclairage sur les réseaux migratoires afghans. Critique Internationale 44: 83104.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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