Annual Lecture 2011

Prof. Dr. Till Förster & Dr. Lucy Koechlin
Learning from Africa: Governance, Politics, Agency – 
Towards an Action-based Theory of Politics and Governance



Lecture Summary

This lecture aims to theorise governance in a novel way in order to understand the formation, institutionalisation and transformation of social agency regulating societal problems, in particular in societies where the state is weak. It addresses the shortcomings of existing approaches to governance, which tend to infuse the understanding of governance with normative, deterministic, or dichotomising premises. The theory outlined underlines the importance of governance to explore actors and dynamics of societal coordination and regulation. We argue that governance structures the social by generating a novel relational process that links actors to different figurations of the social. Governance can be thought of as more or less stable social spaces where actors, based on their respective agencies, identify and address social problems through creative interaction. This interaction is patterned by the type of political articulations that characterise governance as well as the social space that is (re)produced. This political understanding of governance is grounded in a rigorous conceptualisation of social agency and how the actors imagine their society and its possible future. This theorisation of governance is radically action-based and aims at a general, theoretical contribution to the understanding of social action.

Biographical Note

Till Förster holds the chair for social anthropology at the University of Basel. He has conducted extensive field research in West- and Central Africa. Thematically, he has specialised on visual culture and political change with a particular focus on the transformation of statehood. Currently, he heads, among others, two research projects on trust in post-conflict societies and on the work of state imageries in Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea and Liberia.

Lucy Koechlin is an assistant professor at the Institute of Social Anthropology, University of Basel, where she teaches political anthropology with a geographical focus on Eastern and Southern Africa. Formerly, she was Head of Public Accountability at the Basel Institute on Governance, undertaking both research as well as policy work on governance and accountability. She has researched and published extensively on governance, corruption, and political order and change.