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Bare life as a development/postcolonial problematic

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Development studies and postcolonial studies conceptualize and examine the Third World in different ways, yet works associated with the two fields can usefully be combined to illuminate key issues in our time. This article focuses on postcolonial transitions in parts of Africa where the state actively injures or kills a local citizenry, sometimes in the name of development. Using Zimbabwe and Rwanda as very different examples of such transitions, and drawing on selected development and postcolonial writings – fact and ‘fiction’– I argue for framing such cases as examples of the ‘bare life’, ‘camp’ biopolitics articulated by Georgio Agamben. These concepts enable us to see the widening spaces of exception to law that a postcolonial state can create in periods of crisis and defend on the grounds of post-coloniality, that is, as states always already injured by colonialism and its biopolitical development project. The terrain such states enter might be termed ‘fascism’– a location of political economy that development studies has generally neglected in recent years but that novels depicting postcolonial contexts can make vivid.

Keywords: Rwanda; Zimbabwe; biopolitics; development; fascism; postcolonial

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YL, Email:

Publication date: 2006-03-01

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