Over several centuries, the Serer of the Siin region of Senegal developed a complex system of land tenure that resulted in a stable rural society, productive agriculture, and a well-managed ecosystem. Dennis Galvan tells the story of what happened when French colonial rulers, and later the government of the newly independent Senegal, imposed new systems of land tenure and cultivation on the Serer of Siin. Galvan's book is a painstaking and skillful autopsy of ruinous Western-style "rational" economic development policy forced upon a fragile, yet self-sustaining, society. It is also a disquieting demonstration of the general folly of such an approach and an attempt to articulate a better, more sensitive, and ultimately more productive model for change—a model Galvan calls "institutional syncretism."
1. "Buying Rope Is a Young Man’s Job": Transformations of Culture and Institutions
2. The Serer of Siin: "Le type même du paysan africain"
3. "Tradition" in the Siin: Contested and Enmeshing
4. Land Pawning as a Response to the Standardization of Tenure
Transitions: The Siin Reordered
5. Two Romanticizations: Tenure Confusion after the National Domain Law
6. "The King Has Come—Now Everything Is Ruined": The Promise and Frustration of Syncretic Rural Democracy
7. Culturally Sustainable Development
Dennis C. Galvan is Associate Professor of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Oregon.
"An original, meticulous, and convincing intervention in the debates swirling around development practice. Galvan makes a powerful and eloquent case for cultural syncretism as the route to a culturally sustainable development."—James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology, Yale University
"The State Must Be Our Master of Fire provides a superbly documented study of the dynamics of state-society interactions at the rural periphery which undermine state projects of high modernity. This book will be an important contribution to the literature on African politics and comparative development more broadly."—Crawford Young, author of The African Colonial State in Comparative Perspective
"A masterful study of how peasants in a distant locality in Senegal have used tradition and symbols to interpret the world around them in ways that have allowed them, over generations, to respond imaginatively to the presence of colonial and post-colonial efforts to develop the country. This is a book that should appeal to all social scientists, regardless of discipline, who have an interest in how institutions develop and become significant in society."—Goran Hyden, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of Florida
2005 Best Book Award, African Politics Conference Group