Abstract – The Social Life of Identity Documents in Africa


A comparative research project, coordinated by Richard Banégas (Sciences Po – CERI) and Séverine Awenengo Dalberto (CNRS – IMAF), supported by the French National Research Agency (ANR)

The starting point of the PIAF project is the existing gap, in contemporary scholarship, on identity documents in Africa, while many of the crisis that African societies currently experience are crisis of citizenship which focus on matters of civic rights. All these crisis involve the many documents and materials through which civic rights are acknowledged and enforced. Accounting ID and resident cards, birth and voter registration certificates or title deeds is therefore crucial to the understanding of contemporary politics in Africa.

Embracing both a historical and sociological perspective, PIAF’s ambition is to understand the way identification materials have contributed to the formation of African states and answered their designs to include, exclude or control individuals while, in parallel, they have fostered the emergence of new political and moral subjectivities. The project gives full consideration to the historicity and ambivalence of these processes while exploring the plurality of institutions that generate identity documents and the complex relations that individuals nurture with such papers and institutions. Beyond a mere analysis of identity documents as a technologies of power, PIAF will document the « social life of papers », to better understand, from below, the everyday practices and experiences of citizenship and belonging.

A comparative project, PIAF involves a cross-case study analysis that takes place in a dozen of African countries: South Africa, Burkina, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mali, Mauritania, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Senegal and Chad. It involves two institutions in France – The Centre de Recherches Internationales at Sciences Po and the Institut des Mondes Africains – fosters collaborations with African universities – including Wits in Johannesburg – and fifteen researchers in a broad range of social sciences – History, Politics, Anthropology, Sociology – who all specialize on topics of citizenship and identity in their respective country of reference.