Post-War Reconstruction and Rural Development in Oil-Boom Angola

My current book project Provisional Reconstructions draws on three years of fieldwork in Angola and is the first in-depth ethnographically based account of how people in rural Angola have unevenly experienced post-war reconstruction amidst 15 years of off-shore oil boom and bust, following upon 40 years of intermittent armed conflict. The book substantially revises interpretations of Angola, with broader implications for the political economy of resources and development. It is empirically grounded in charting changes in the provision of the main staple food crop cassava from the countryside to the capital Luanda. It draws on participant observation connecting five research sites, as well as hundreds of interviews and dozens of archives.

I find that state-led reconstruction activities are shaped not simply by elites’ notable accumulation of wealth, but also by how such accumulation occurs in relation to the specific geographical ways that Angola’s histories of colonialism,  socialism, war, and liberalization have combined. The state in contemporary Angola has been shaped by militarism and liberalization in the ways that it uses oil revenue to revive post-independence socialist plans for restructuring the countries’ economic geography. Such infrastructures expanded in the 1960s and 1970s as part of late-colonial Portuguese counter-insurgency programs, which were prompted by nationalist mobilization. Mobilization arose not only from popular grievances about a colonial economy premised on forced-labor, but also through peoples’ everyday geographies of connection. This specific combination of dynamics challenges blueprints for good resource governance. Instead, carefully articulating such dynamics is key to finding ways of popular engagement that resonate widely enough for effective state reform.

first reconstructed railroad, 2011

participant observation with cassava farmers

rural small town fieldwork

Bridging academic and popular conversations is important to my thinking, writing, and research. My work has been featured in a range of outlets, such as the International Herald Tribune, The Guardian (UK), Angolan newspapers, and in the British Parliament. 

Geo-Histories of Development in Malanje, Angola and Africa

Over the long term I am deepening this work with two book manuscripts that further integrate geography and history, in what I call geo-histories. One book is a unique grounding of Angolan history 1850-2020 by re-telling it through peoples’ experiences in one rural area of Malanje Province. This book, and its translated edition in Portuguese, seeks to engage specialists and Angolan readers, and particularly people in Malanje and rural Angola.

The other book analyzes inequality, social institutions and feasible avenues of international development by analyzing transformations in the Malanje region and its connections from 1520-2020. I join together existing rich historical work on Angola with my research on the contemporary period. This long span of five centuries saw transformations in trade from slaves, to rubber, wax, and ivory, to coffee, corn, diamonds, and cotton. Such deeper historical context involved changing geographical patterns that condition but do not determine how the state has used off-shore oil revenues over the last fifty years. I use a range of methods and sources to analyze a specific region and its connections, enabling a critical geographical approach to historically understanding extraction, the state, and possibilities of development.

Critical Geographies of States in Africa

My future research project will expand to the region encompassing northern Angola and southern DR Congo. It focuses on connecting and comparing geographies and histories of state formation and agrarian change in both countries. It both uses critical geography to understand the diverse political economies of states in Africa, and marshals African studies to advance critical geography. This research informs and builds upon my teaching. It is closely linked with practical concerns about mobilizing alliances for advocacy, development, and state reform. Such mobilization shapes and is shaped by considering the diversity of everyday and popular geographical theories in Africa, African theories of space-time, and African conceptualizations of geography. 

Hunger, Agriculture and Development in Africa

My interests in the topics above grew out of my earlier engaged practical work on hunger, agriculture, and development. Through this work, I came to appreciate that the provision of appropriate agricultural and food policies and programs tailored to peoples’ diverse, complex and changing basic needs depends greatly on the structures and dynamics of the state and state-society relations. The latter, in turn, can only be understood with regard to not only agrarian change, but also resources, conflict, urban-rural links, etc. – namely, complex geographical patterns and relations.