We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Research & business

View Profile

Publication details for Dr Cherry Leonardi

Leonardi, Cherry (2015). Points of order? Local government meetings as negotiation tables in South Sudanese history. Journal of Eastern African Studies 9(4): 650-668.

Author(s) from Durham


This paper explores the long-term, local-level history of state formation in South Sudan over the past century, by focusing on local government meetings. The resilience of local state institutions and practices has been overlooked in recent state-building agendas and by scholars critical of authoritarian government and failed decentralization in South Sudan's history. But this paper argues that meetings of local government officials and chiefs have long been significant institutions for negotiating the state and performing its authority. Yet they were also risky and unpredictable events for state officials, who at times struggled to control the critical and unruly talk of the participants. These officials were made vulnerable by the very logic and performance of the meeting as a binary dialogue between ‘state’ and ‘society’, constituting a boundary which was otherwise blurred or non-existent among the local elites who recognized each other as legitimate negotiators in meetings. The performance of this dichotomy contributed to the idea of the state as an entity standing separate from society, to which people might appeal against the failings and corruptions of local government, and with which a contractual relationship was continually being negotiated. The performative aspect of these meetings should not simply be dismissed then as evidence of their impotence or control by the state, but rather as a vital means by which the state has come to be imagined and negotiated at the most immediate local levels of government.