Peer Schouten, of the Danish Institute for International Studies, has written a breathtaking book. Roadblock Politics: The Origins of Violence in Central Africa (Cambridge, 2022). Schouten mapped more than 1000 roadblocks in both the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In so doing, he illuminates the relationship between road blocks and what he calls “frictions of terrain” (p 262). These frictions demonstrate how rebels, locals and state security forces interact in the making, or unmaking, of state authority and legitimacy. Looking at roadblocks as a kind of infrastructural empire that existed before the Europeans first arrived in Africa, Schouten develops a new framework to understand the ways in which supply chain capitalism thrives in places of non-conventional logistical capacity, to reframe how state theory fails to capture the nature of statehood and local authority in Central Africa. Schouten calls out governments, the UN and other international actors, to highlight how control of roadblocks translates into control over mineral, territory or people. No analysis of the drivers of conflict anywhere in the world is complete without consideration of Peer Schouten’s groundbreaking book, Roadblock Politics.
At the end of the interview, Schouten recommends two books: Mintz’s (1986) Sweetness of Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History and Labatut’s (2021) When We Cease to Understand the World. Thomson recommends the CBC podcast Nothing is Foreign.
Susan Thomson is an Associate Professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Colgate University. I like to interview pretenure scholars about their research. I am particularly keen on their method and methodology, as well as the process of producing academic knowledge about African places and people.
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