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“Le Congo c’est foutu”? Metropolitan interactional strategies and state trans/formation in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Applicant Perazzone Stéphanie
Number 158966
Funding scheme Doc.CH
Research institution Département de Relations internationales et Science politique IHEID, Graduate Institute
Institution of higher education Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies - IHEID
Main discipline Political science
Start/End 01.03.2015 - 30.09.2017
Approved amount 188'899.00
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All Disciplines (3)

Political science
General history (without pre-and early history)

Keywords (10)

Goma; Democratic Republic of the Congo; Kinshasa; state power; state transformation; micro-physics of power; Lubumbashi; everyday state; state failure; Urbanization

Lay Summary (French)

Ce projet a pour objet de repenser les fondements théoriques et empiriques du discours de 'faillite de l'Etat' dans les pays comme la République Démocratique du Congo (RDC). Afin de comprendre les dynamiques de trans/formation de l'Etat au niveau micro et dans un contexte urbain, ce projet se base sur un travail de terrain ethnographique dans trois villes importantes de la RDC: Kinshasa, Goma et Lubumbashi. Placées au cœur des politiques locales d’aménagement, des questions de citoyenneté et des dynamiques économiques, les villes, en particulier en Afrique où elles sont en plein expansion, sont aujourd’hui plus que jamais liées au destin et à l’évolution des Etats, en particulier ceux que la communauté internationale considère trop fragiles pour y exercer leur « gouvernementalité ».
Lay summary
La thèse de la faillite de l’Etat trouve ses fondements théoriques dans l’idéal-type Wébérien de l’Etat moderne. Les dysfonctionnements de l’Etat en faillite sont donc symptomatiques de l’échec de la domination légale-rationnelle à s’imposer comme modèle d’organisation politique. Cette thèse adopte donc une approche théorique pluridisciplinaire qui cherche à redéfinir la notion de pouvoir et le rôle des relations Etat-citoyens au quotidien dans la perpétuation des pratiques de l’Etat. Une analyse ethnographique et anthropologique des transformations de l’Etat congolais à travers la large palette de ‘stratégies interactionnelles’ utilisée par les citadins et les agents de l’Etat afin de négocier la distribution de services publics de base, pourrait donc en expliquer sa réplication – et peut être son évolution - en dépit de son image moribonde véhiculée par le discours de la ‘faillite de l’Etat’. Dans un contexte d’interventions internationales cherchant à rétablir l’autorité de l’Etat dans les pays en voie de deéveloppement il devient urgent de repenser les principes néo-libéraux et Wébériens qui permettent aujourd’hui aux pays riches de la communauté internationale d’appréhender, souvent de manière erronée, un (tiers-)monde qu’elle tente de façonner et de dominer
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 20.02.2015

Responsible applicant and co-applicants



“Shouldn't You Be Teaching Me?” State Mimicry in the Congo
Perazzone Stéphanie (2019), “Shouldn't You Be Teaching Me?” State Mimicry in the Congo, in International Political Sociology, 13(2), 161.
Neighborhood Chiefs in Urban DRC: "The state is me, the state is you, the state is all of us"
Perazzone Stéphanie (2019), Neighborhood Chiefs in Urban DRC: "The state is me, the state is you, the state is all of us", in Titeca Kristof, De Herdt Tom (ed.), Zed Books, London, 51.
Reintegrating former fighters in the congo: ambitious objectives, limited results
Perazzone Stéphanie (2017), Reintegrating former fighters in the congo: ambitious objectives, limited results, in International Peacekeeping, 24(2), 254.

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
ECAS 2017 Talk given at a conference Mokili Ebende | Un Monde de Fer 30.06.2017 Bâle, Switzerland Perazzone Stéphanie;
ISA 2017 Annual Convention, Baltimore Talk given at a conference ‘L’Etat ni miye, l’Etat ni weye, l 'Etat ni shiye bote’ Unheard Voices, Everyday Power and Social Organization in the Urban Congo 23.02.2017 Baltimore, United States of America Perazzone Stéphanie;
Bachelor, course in International Studies Poster Development: A critique 07.11.2016 Universiteit van Amsterdam, Netherlands Perazzone Stéphanie;
ASAUK 2016 Talk given at a conference ‘Shouldn’t You Be Teaching Me?’ Mimesis and State Formation in the Congo 07.09.2016 Cambridge, Great Britain and Northern Ireland Perazzone Stéphanie;
Master of Development Course, Profs. Bocco and Carbonnier Individual talk Theorizing 'the state', gauging 'failure': Questioning state failure with an open mind 26.03.2015 Geneva, Switzerland Perazzone Stéphanie;

Knowledge transfer events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Date Place Persons involved
CCDP-IDRC 'Research Workshop' Workshop 04.07.2016 Geneva, Switzerland Perazzone Stéphanie;

Communication with the public

Communication Title Media Place Year
Talks/events/exhibitions 'Elephant's Dream': Documentary Screening & Discussion International 2016


Title Year
European International Studies Association (EISA)'s Best Dissertation Award 2020, Honourable Mention. 2020


The project departs from the following central empirical puzzle: How is it possible that the Congolese state has been receding as an agent of public service provision and, yet, simultaneously been achieving ever-higher levels of embeddedness in Congolese society? Simply put, how can a state be described as failed (by external observers), yet also appear omnipresent (to its citizens)? This question stems not only from my own extensive field experience in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) but has also been brought up and discussed in a limited number of important scholarly contributions. In addition, the inquiry directly addresses the troubled post-Cold War context of international relations, which has long been marked by the perceived proliferation of transnational non-state actors that are seen as growing sources of authority operating outside conventional state control. Broadly speaking, this lack of state control has been described as ‘state failure,’ a concept prominent in academic and policy accounts that seeks to label a situation in which nation-states exhibit a clear inability to exert effective control over their own territory. This, in turn, is posited to have allowed the growth of non-state actors threatening to international security and, thus, to justify the emergence of extensive international interventions in the form of exogenous statebuilding strategies. The state failure discourse, in short, has had far-reaching implications for international politics and, this thesis wagers, deserves greater scrutiny. Indeed, while at first glance, and judging by the historically poor performance of states like the DRC across all sectors of public life, such conclusions seem appropriate, this thesis is motivated- intellectually- in my identification of two key flaws underlying its assumptions. Conceptually, the post-colonial state in Africa in general, and the DRC in particular, is poorly theorized and frequently lacks historical context. Empirically, daily state practices, as analysed, for instance, in several anthropological studies, seem to provide little evidence for the suitability of ‘state failure’ in many cases. In order to address these flaws, and thus place the academic contributions of the ‘state failure’ literature on a firmer footing, this thesis seeks to produce a novel ‘ethnography of the state’ that explores the trajectories of microsocial patterns of power and popular perceptions of the state among its citizens. More specifically, the project will provide this analysis of the ‘everyday’ state by conducting ethnographic field research in three important Congolese urban centres: Kinshasa, Lubumbashi and Goma. The DRC is an apt field site for such an inquiry given analysts from both the academic and policy spectrums have repeatedly described it as “a paradigmatic case” of state collapse, where the government no longer performs or, indeed, exists within the form of a functional Weberian legal-rational bureaucratic apparatus. Moreover, the project’s focus on urban centres is motivated by equally alarming descriptions of rapid and uncontrolled urbanization, which are further contributing to poverty cycles in places like the DRC. Nonetheless, despite this micro-level focus on the locus of the state in the DRC, this thesis ultimate addresses and contributes to a far broader intellectual debate pertaining to state theorizing and its associated preoccupations with state-society interactions and power relations.