From #ThisFlag to #ThisScarf: Affect, Emotion, and Political Protest in Zimbabwe, 2016-2019 – University of Copenhagen

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From #ThisFlag to #ThisScarf: Affect, Emotion, and Political Protest in Zimbabwe, 2016-2019

Open lecture with Dr. Susanne Verheul, Oxford University

By examining protest movements and their interactions with the Zimbabwean state from 2016 onwards, this presentation explores how emotions, affect, and the imaginations of ordinary citizens and civil servants can help us understand the workings of the contemporary African state. Critical of the manner in which Zimbabwe has featured prominently in depictions of the African state as failed, corrupt, or absent, the talk discusses how affect, as tied to the political imagination, can offer a more productive lens through which to conceptualise encounters with the state. To engage with the powerful emotions and affective relations that states elicit, the presentation looks into the process through which Zimbabweans invested feelings in their flag, and in a scarf, during the prominent #ThisFlag anti-government protests of 2016, the military coup ousting Robert Mugabe in November 2017, and the recent stay-away actions of January 2019. During these protests, affective engagements with the colours of the flag were tied to historical memory, fear, disillusionment, anger, and hope for the future. These engagements, it is argued, show how power emerges from the ways in which values and norms emanate from (inter)subjective experiences with the state.

Susanne Verheul is a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellow in the Department of International Development, University of Oxford, United Kingdom. Her work in southern Africa, and in Zimbabwe particularly, has examined the place of law in processes of state-making and negotiations over social and political belonging. Her current research focuses on histories of professionalism within a seemingly politicised and polarised judiciary. She has published in leading African Studies journals, and is currently working on a book that explores the relationship between law and state authority in Zimbabwe after 2000, through courtroom performances within political trials. She holds a DPhil and MPhil in International Development from the University of Oxford, and has taught at Oxford and at the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands.