State Making and the Politics of the Frontier
in Central Benin


  • Pierre-Yves Le Meur

    1. Anthropologist, programme officer at GRET (Groupe de recherche et d'échanges technologiques, Paris, and associate researcher in IRD (Institut de recherche pour le développement, Montpellier), in the research unit ‘Land Regulations, Public Policy, Actors' Logics’; Email:
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Kopytoff's model of the African frontier has opened room for renewed approaches to settlement history, politics, ethnicity and cultural reproduction in pre-colonial Africa. This interpretative framework applies well to central Benin (Ouessè). Over the long term, mobility has been a structural feature of the regional social history, from pre-colonial times onwards. Movements of people, resources, norms and values have been crucial in the production and reproduction of the social and political order. The colonial intrusion and its post-colonial avatars gave way to renewed relations between mobility and locality, in particular in the form of a complex articulation between control over labour force, access to land and natural resources, and out- and in-migrations. This article argues that the political frontier metaphor provides a useful heuristic device to capture the logic of state making, as the changing outcome of organizing practices taking place inside and outside state and non-state organizations and arenas. Governmentality in post-colonial central Benin thus results from the complex interplay of mobility, control over resources and state-led forms of ‘villagization’.