Sunday, July 19, 2009


I have mulled starting a blog for years. Two years ago, I even set up a couple of initial pages, one on the Central African Republic and one on Eastern Equatoria, in South Sudan. But mostly the brief bursts of inspiration gave way to inertia. Now, though, as I've started my PhD research (provisional title: "Raiding Sovereignty in Central African Borderlands"), I have found myself missing the extended-lunch discussions I had back on campus, and my brain feels submerged in observations, ironies, and questions. Writing up some of my thoughts becomes an alternate way of working through the ideas. If for an audience of one, so much the better. (Mostly I'm just hoping that keeping in the practice of writing will help me avoid total meltdown once dissertation-writing time comes around.) I'll still miss Kevin's jokes, but I'm afraid that's unavoidable for now.

Broadly, some of the themes that interest me lie around the intersections of political and legal theory, anthropology, and history, with a particular focus on sovereignty and the state, and the ethics and practice of militarized political economies.

I named my blog "Foole's no man's land" for a couple of reasons. The figure of the Foole comes from Hobbes' Leviathan. In different ways, political anthropologists from E.E. Evans-Pritchard onward have considered themselves in conversation with this text. Hobbes provides a masterful theoretical argument for leaving the lawless, war-of-all-against-all state of nature in favor of submission to a sovereign, the keeping of covenants, and, most importantly, the pursuit of self-interest. Anthropology's starting point, in contrast, was among so-called "stateless" people, who, despite never submitting to a sovereign, seemed to be getting along just fine.

The Foole plays an interesting role in Hobbes' text. The "Foole" has noticed that there are times when self-interest and the keeping of covenants do not align. Hobbes allows that in such cases a person might break a covenant, but should not break a covenant loudly or explicitly, but rather do it silently, weighing the risks of getting caught (this interpretation comes from an article by Kinch Hoekstra; it's not the only interpretation of Hobbes' Foole, but to my mind it's the most interesting and the most convincing). Early anthropologists tended either not to see self-interest as the guiding force in the societies they studied, or they saw a flavor of self-interest so different from that of western, capitalist society as to become almost unrecognizable as such. Maybe because of this, they ignored the Fooles in the societies they studied; the analysis they offered suggested well-ordered, functional social systems with no dissenters or scofflaws.

Here, I'd like to bring back in the Fooles and other surprises of law and politics in the modern world. I study an area that is something of a no man's land. The Central African Republic is a state that exists on maps, and as a member of the United Nations, but not as a sovereign governor in the vast, sparsely populated terrain outside the capital. And it's a no man's land home to many Fooles, bandits and otherwise, who transgress boundaries and borders both physical and social to create opportunities within and beyond the space they inhabit.

So, here goes.


  1. Hooray! This is the first time I see a Kinch citation in the wild. His Foole was always the best. You might say he's an expert.

  2. Hello there Louisa;
    I was searching for a blog related to CAR to understand more about the culture there and found your blog. I think its interesting what your doing how bold! Are you planning to stay there for a while...presumably based in Bangui?


  3. loving this exposition of the Foole-- and your research. just came across your blog via the SSRC site. Didn't know you'd also received that award. You give me inspiration to perhaps start up a blog myself. Very much looking forward to meeting you in France this September.

    Dan Miller

  4. Hi Louisa, loved reading your analysis of the political figures in Seleka. My name is Rukmini Callimachi, and I'm the West Africa bureau chief for the AP. Might you be interested in a quick phone interview? Our articles are published in the majority of American newspapers (Washington Post, etc). My email is