Violent States, States of Violence

Principal Investigators: Prof Garth Stevens (Department of Psychology) and Prof Karl von Holdt (SWOP)

Call for Applications for 2023 Postgraduate Scholarships

The Violent States, States of Violence Research Project at the University of the Witwatersrand invites applications from MA students for scholarships in the field of violence studies for the 2023 academic year.

The centrality of violence to colonialism, imperialism, and global and local forms of domination calls for a rethinking of social science assumptions. For the purposes of this project, we take as a starting point a focus on the relationship between states, citizens, subjecthood, politics and violence; and at the same time are convinced that the workings of politically-inflected forms of violence require that we rethink prevailing concepts of the state, democracy, citizenship and politics.

Democratic states may collude with embedded elites such as drug cartels or ‘traditional’ chiefs to sustain violent and authoritarian local regimes linked to lucrative financial flows derived from drug trading or mineral extraction. The state-party nexus itself becomes a site of violence in which different factions compete with each other to access resources and reconstitute patronage relations. The state may recapitulate colonial repertoires of violence in repressing popular expressions of grievance, such as the Marikana massacre, or may be seen to facilitate violence to sustain ‘order’ – whether against criminals, foreigners, dissenting groups or gender-transgressive individuals. Democratisation may itself generate new social tensions and new forms of violence, and ‘modernisation’ and ‘development’ may forge new forms of dispossession, conflict and violence.

In all of these instances we need to rethink and disaggregate the state and its contradictory forms and practices, making use of or rethinking concepts such as ‘violent pluralism’, ‘brown/grey zones’ of politics where violence produces low-intensity citizenship, ‘violent democracy’ or ‘disjunctive democracy’.

The citizen arises as a concept in the same moment as the modern state and reaches its fullest expression through the political form of democracy, constituted through participation, rights, obligations, reason and civility. Yet, the kinds of state practices described above give rise to differentiated regimes of subjecthood and citizenship in which democratic rights are unevenly distributed. Some citizens may be constituted as violent subjects, while others are constituted as targets of violence. Some citizens may be reduced to tribal subjects, while in other cases indigenous citizens may access richer rights to, for example, land, than those constituted as liberal citizens by formal constitutions.

Citizens are not simply passive elements, but actively participate in the regimes of governance that dominate them, seeking and claiming patronage, forging patriarchal, ethnic, territorial or religious identities that may circumscribe or exclude the citizenship rights of others, at times violently. In democracies, citizens may vote for violent and exclusionary regimes – whether these target the poor, or ethnic minorities, or indigenous groups, or those who are seen to contribute to disorder. The mobilisation for democratic claims may also be accompanied by violence against the state, or to maintain subaltern cohesion, and subaltern orders may themselves be constituted through processes of inclusion and exclusion.

Violence is integral to the making and unmaking of states, democracy, citizenship and subjecthood – and therefore of social order. Violence may serve to sustain or restore existing orders, resist or disrupt them, or inaugurate or consolidate new and emerging orders – whether these are large-scale orders such as global capitalism and orders of elite domination in the nation states of the Global South, and national regimes of citizenship; or small-scale orders constituted by a local elites and hierarchies, or community formations threatened by crime or disturbed by outsiders or transgressive groups. Violence is, therefore, intimately related to questions of power, domination, resistance, order and disorder.

We would like to invite applications from MA students. Students must formally register at the institution in 2021 to conduct violence research within any disciplinary field at the University of the Witwatersrand.

Successful applicants will benefit from a strong, supportive and collaborative interdisciplinary research environment. There will also be modest funds available for research implementation costs, and recipients of scholarships will have the opportunity to participate in all colloquia, international conferences and research events associated with the overarching project. This project has a wide-ranging of interests. Topics already accepted include:

We are interested in proposals on:

The value of the scholarship is:

Eligibility and requirements:

Application process:

Applications close on the 15 January 2023. Your application should include:

  1. A detailed and up to date CV with contact details for two academic referees.
  2. Certified copies of degrees and an academic transcript.
  3. While, in principle, prospective recipients are not precluded from receiving other funding, all such funding applied for and/or received must be disclosed at the time of application. Prospective recipients are expected to be fully committed to the Violent States, States of Violence research project.
  4. If you have already been accepted for an MA or PhD programme at Wits and have been assigned a supervisor, please provide these details.
  5. If you have not yet applied to or been accepted into a programme at Wits, please indicate your disciplinary field and (if you have one) a preferred supervisor.
  6. If your proposal has already been approved and accepted by a Faculty, please supply a copy of this proposal and a covering letter explaining how you envisage this project as contributing to and benefitting from the broader Violent States, States of Violence research agenda.
  7. If you have not yet submitted a proposal to Faculty, please provide a brief concept paper (not more than 1000 words) outlining your proposed research and how it would articulate with the Violent States, States of Violence research project.

Please submit your application to by the 15 January 2023.

Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed and outcomes will be known by the end of January.