"Mundane Sights" of Power: A History of Social Monitoring and its Subversion in Rwanda

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By tracing the Rwandan state’s “mundane sights”—everyday forms of presence
and monitoring—the article sheds light on the historical development and
striking continuities in “interactive surveillance” across a century of turbulent political change. It considers three emblematic surveillance technologies—the institution of nyumbakumi, the identity card, and umuganda works (and public activities more broadly)—which, despite their implication in genocide, were retained, reworked, and even bolstered after the conflict ended. The article investigates what drives the observed continuity and “layering” of social monitoring over time, highlighting the key role played by ambiguity and ambivalence in this process. The research expands the concept of political surveillance, moving away from the unidirectional notion of “forms of watching,” and questions any easy distinctions between visibility and invisibility in the exercise of power or its subversion.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)59-86
Number of pages28
JournalAfrican Studies Review
Issue number2
Early online date30 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 30 Sept 2016


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