A spatial approach to study African Peace and Security

One of the central arguments put forward in this book - following the main observation of the ‘spatial turn’ in the social sciences and humanities - has been that space matters and constitutes a central dimension of everyday social and political interaction. Consequently, only if space is taken into account as an analytical category is it possible to make sense of the complex processes at African ROs in the context of African peace and security dynamics.

To give direct and explicit attention to space, in this book, I have drawn on insights from Critical Geography, which have conceptualized space as socially constructed, resulting from continuous, open-ended social interactions and changing interrelations among different actors. Consequently, space is the temporary and always precarious outcome of multi-scalar, polycentric and intertwined processes, which are always political and often contested (Massey 2005, 9). Moreover, space is also a category of thought that allows people to make sense of the world around them, give meaning to it and act upon it. These thoughts and practices make up reality, which, in turn, impacts back on thoughts and practices (Werlen 2009, 286-7). Furthermore, saying that space is relational and topological means that, for example, ‘proximity’ (making presence felt) and ‘distance’ (placing beyond reach) are not absolute but produced by actors with the power to make the ‘far near’ and the ‘near far’ (Allen 2016, 2ff). Chapter 2 of this book has discussed and explained this in more detail.

The ‘spatial approach’ presented in this book builds on three key concepts, namely ‘space-making’, ‘spatial format’ and ‘spatial order’. As heuristic tools these direct attention to how different actors continuously contribute to the construction, formatting and ordering of social space, as part of everyday practices. Space-making refers to the ongoing, open-ended spatial organization of potentially all aspects of social life by different actors and practices, involving contestation, negotiation and unequal power relations. Influencing these processes but simultaneously resulting from them are spatial formats and spatial orders. Spatial formats are historically contingent, relatively stable lenses or patterns that enable actors to select, name, give meaning to and communicate specific spaces that are relevant to them. Therefore, spatial formats relate to specific material and/or discursive practices, and are tied to specific groups of actors, based on ideas about how to imagine, name, visualize and manage space (i.e., spatial formatting), as well as on ideas about what ‘relevant’ or ‘appropriate’ spatial formats are. Spatial orders both influence and result from such practices linked to different spatial formats. They emerge historically and relate different spatial formats to one another in specific ways, although this is achieved only temporarily and requires continuous maintenance; spatial orders are continually ‘in the making’. Therefore, the processes, actors and practices need to be the main focus of research (i.e., spatial ordering).

In addition to these three key concepts, this book has utilized four supporting sensitizing tools that help to further focus academic attention and make space accessible in research. First, analyzing spatial semantics allows accessing particular spatial imaginations by looking at spatial terminology or references, used by different actors in different ways. Second, identifying spatial actors directs attention to the actual people that do the constructing, formatting and ordering of space. In that, third, they employ different spa-tializingpractices, the analysis of which allows understanding and describing more concretely how things are done. Finally, fourth, this book has sought to identify the sites where intervention processes and dynamics unfold, and to understand how different sites of intervention are connected to one another.

While different aspects of space-making are often implicit in the existing literature on African Peace and Security, for example, with regard to ‘statebuilding’ and the implementation of regional security ‘architectures’, a new approach is required to capture these aspects and dynamics adequately. A spatial approach allows seeing and better understanding how particular spatial imaginations and framings have influenced conflict interventions and regional security policies, and how regions actually are being constructed, formatted and ordered during conflict interventions. African ROs and African peace and security dynamics, thereby, become discernible as complex constructs and processes (i.e., constantly ‘in the making’), involving continuous contestation and negotiation, multiple and entangled actors, political projects and practices, playing out at different interconnected sites. The following sections further illustrate these points.

 
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