Margaret Anstee Centre seminar: How Architecture Makes States

Professor Julia Gallagher

Global studies research centre launches new lecture series

Professor Julia Gallagher (Kings College London) explored political authority through state architecture in sub-Saharan Africa, in a talk hosted by the Margaret Anstee Centre at Newnham College.

In Building Africa: How Architecture Makes States, she drew on fieldwork in Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana and South Africa to understand how citizens see and experience the state through its buildings. The research revealed interesting differences in the way people relate to government buildings, with varying levels of trust, pride and trepidation, for example, permeating their perceptions.

One example was the imposing colonial Union Buildings in Pretoria. Women marched there in 1956 to protest at pass laws being extended to women; but it was here also that President Nelson Mandela was inaugurated. People were free to mill around the beautiful gardens, but the state’s history still resonated. One member of a focus group described them as “the devil’s buildings” during apartheid.

In Ghana, by contrast, an eclectic mix of government buildings were by turns grand, modernist and mundane. Focus group participants showed a familiarity with them, having often visited various government departments inside, and were comfortable sharing their views in and about these spaces of governance.

In DR Congo, Tata Raphael football stadium seemed an odd choice by citizens as one of the most significant state buildings. But people explained it was “the place where people went to find out what was going on when the government would not tell them”.

You can find out more about Dr Gallagher’s work, at Kings College London, here.

The Margaret Anstee Centre, where research focuses on international relations and global development, was made possible through a legacy from Dame Margaret, a Newnham alumna and the first woman Under-Secretary General of the United Nations.

The next seminar in the series is on 6 March: Futures of State Capitalism in the Global North, East and South with Dr Ilias Alami. Find out more and register here.